If you missed last month’s spectacular Super Pink Moon, then there’s some good news. On 7 May there’s set to be another one: the Super Flower Moon.
This ‘supermoon’ won’t look like a flower – it’s so-called because it accompanies springtime’s colourful blooms.
But it’s your last chance to see a supermoon this year – the next one isn’t until April 2021.
A full moon is called a supermoon when it coincides with the Moon being at (or within 90 per cent of) its closest point to the Earth (its ‘perigee’) as it follows its elliptical orbit around us.
May’s supermoon will be 361,184km away from Earth – compared to the average Moon-Earth distance of 384,400km. A supermoon can be up to 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than a normal full moon.
Technically, a new moon can also be a supermoon, but we don’t tend to mark these because we can’t see them!
Read more about the Moon:
The best time to study the Moon’s surface is actually not on the night of the full moon itself, as it can be too bright. Instead, pick a night a few days before or after the full moon to see the most detail.
The easiest features to spot with binoculars are the Moon’s craters – especially the younger ones, which tend to be brighter.
If you’re looking from the northern hemisphere, you’ll see a large, bright crater just to the left of the centre of the Moon’s surface. This is Copernicus, which is 93km-wide and thought to be around 800 million years old (relatively young by the Moon’s standards).
If you imagine a line of symmetry drawn vertically through the Moon’s disk, the Apollo 11 landing site, in the Sea of Tranquility, is pretty much where Copernicus would be reflected on the other side. Remember, if you’re looking from the southern hemisphere, the Moon will appear upside down compared to looking from the northern hemisphere.
You should also be able to see two more distinctive craters with your binoculars – Aristarchus, which is to the left of Copernicus, and the huge Tycho crater at the very bottom.
If you look closely enough you’ll see there are many more craters, each one evidence of the Moon’s billions of years of meteorite bombardment.
Reader Q&A: What would happen if there were no Moon?
Asked by: Derek Palmer, Eton Wick
The most immediate effect (other than the lack of moonlight, of course) would be on the Earth’s tides. With only the Sun’s gravitational influence, the difference between high and low tides would be reduced dramatically – as would tidal drag, which slows the Earth down at a rate adding about 0.002 seconds to the length of a day each century. Long term, the effects would be far more serious.
The climate of the Earth is sensitively dependent on the 23.5° tilt of the Earth’s axis, and without the stabilising presence of our relatively huge Moon, the gravity of the other planets would produce big changes in this angle – as it does with Mars, whose tilt changes by 60° over a few million years.