Vast Super Pink Moon to light up SA skies at 4:35am on Wednesday
Dust off your binoculars, earmark a comfortable perch next to an east-facing window, set your alarm clock and prepare for a front row seat to witness a true natural wonder of the world.
Because at exactly 04:35 am on Wednesday morning, the vast Pink Super Moon will sit high aloft, lighting our skies in all its magnificent lunar glory.
Every April, sandwiched between the Worm Moon of March and the Flower Moon of May, the Pink Moon rises to hang like a great glowing orb in the sky, almost impossibly large, bright and full.
But this year, meteorologists expect it to be bigger and brighter than ever — thanks in part to its proximity to the earth, but in particular because of the clear skies forecast this week and reduced air pollution caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
For in the early hours of tomorrow morning, the moon, whose orbit is not circular around the earth, will be at its closest possible point to our planet (its ‘perigee’) — just 225 623 miles away, compared to the average Moon-Earth distance of 252,088 miles. As a result, it will appear 14 per cent bigger and a third brighter than usual.
All of which means that those with a telescope, a pair of binoculars, or even particularly beady eyes, will be able to make out some of its vast plains, jagged mountains, ancient volcanoes and the brutal scars from endless meteorite bombardment.
Not, however, that any of the above will be actually pink.
Because the name, which originates from Native Americans, comes not from the moon’s colour, but from the spring blossom of ‘moss pink’ or phlox flowers — one of the early blooms that coincide with the April super moon in the US.
(It has plenty of other names too — the Egg Moon, Full Sprouting Grass Moon, Growing Moon and Full Fish Moon — all reflecting different seasonal markers from around the world.)
As it rises tomorrow, the ‘Pink’ Moon will initially appear more orange than anything else.
When a Full Moon is seen low in the sky and close to the horizon, it is viewed through a greater thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere. As a result, the oxygen and nitrogen-rich mixture filters out, or refracts, the bluer wavelengths of white moonlight — which is just light reflected from the sun — leaving more of the red component of the moonlight to meet the eye.
Of course now, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, is the perfect time to start looking up. The skies are clear — not just of pollution, but also planes and helicopters roaring over. The air quality over our cities is the best it has been in decades.
Even better, we actually have the time to pause, to look up, to notice the canvas of wonders above us.
For as well as the majestic luminous moon, we can now witness all the cosmos has to offer. Not just the odd twinkling star (it’s easy to tell them from planets because the latter, much closer, barely twinkle) but whole constellations — to the north; Ursa Minor and Major, the Plough, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Auriga. And to the south, Taurus, Cancer, Canis Minor and Major. The list goes on and on.
In fact, on a clear night in a good location, up to 3,000 stars can be spotted in the sky. And all you need to see most of them is a window, a strong neck to look up, or a warm coat and a blanket to lie on if you’re out in your garden.
Yet for all those thousands of stars, mankind has always retained a special, fervent connection with moon.
And if the Moon — known as our ‘eighth continent’ — seems inextricably linked to everything here on earth, that’s because it is.
More than four billion years ago, it was actually part of our planet. That is, until a very young Earth, then rather smaller than it is today, was hit by another planet about the size of Mars.
The impact — one of the biggest explosions ever seen in the solar system and the most dramatic even in the Earth’s history — resulted in the two planets coagulating in a seething molten mass that took centuries to cool down. At some point during the process, a vast glob of material was hurled off into space and became the Moon.
Tomorrow, it will take the form of a Pink Super Moon, changing, as it ascends, from it’s slightly pale orange, to a bright, silvery white — too bright to look at for long when it is high in the sky, but utterly beautiful.
As Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astronomer at the UK’s Royal Observatory Greenwich, puts it: ‘It’s going to be spectacular. The Super Moon is a great opportunity for everyone to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.’
Certainly it will be beautiful and awesome and, for those with binoculars and telescopes, there will be an awful lot to see. For starters, Copernicus, a 60-mile wide crater about 800 million years old.
Then there’s the selection of the moon’s various seas; the Seas of Vapours, Serenity, Tranquillity, Crises and Fertility (not actual seas, but dark plains formed by volcanic eruptions). And let’s not forget the meteor scar of Aristarchus, to the left of Copernicus, and the vast Tycho crater at the very bottom. All from your bedroom window.
But if, somehow, your alarm doesn’t go off, or you just can’t get out of bed, don’t panic.
The Flower Super Moon will be along next month in all its glory to kickstart May, albeit not quite as bright and beautiful and breathtakingly close as this one.Daily Mail