Take a look at the moon tonight, as it might be the last time you see anything like it.
This evening will be the first time since 1982 that a supermoon has coincided with a lunar eclipse and we won’t see another one until 2033.
Supermoon eclipses have happened only five times in the last hundred years: 1910, 1928, 1946, 1964 and 1982. Tonight’s supermoon lunar eclipse will last one hour and 11 minutes. It can be seen in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and some parts of Asia and the Pacific.
Supermoons happen when the Moon’s orbit brings it close to Earth, says NASA.
“Because the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle, the moon is sometimes closer to the Earth than at other times during its orbit,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. “When the moon is farthest away it’s known as apogee, and when it’s closest it’s known as perigee. On Sept. 27, we’re going to have a perigee full moon—the closest full moon of the year.”
During the moon’s perigee phase, the moon is 31,000 miles closer to the Earth than during its apogee phase.
The moon’s closeness will make the moon look 14-percent larger and 30-percent brighter, says NASA. This perceived largeness has given rise to the term “super moon.”
“There’s no physical difference in the moon,” says Petro. “It just appears slightly bigger in the sky. It’s not dramatic, but it does look larger.”
Why is a supermoon and lunar eclipse coinciding? It’s just a matter of “planetary dynamics,” says Petro.
“It’s just planetary dynamics. The orbit of the moon around Earth is inclined to the axis of Earth and the orbital plane of all these things just falls into place every once in a while. When the rhythms line up, you might get three to four eclipses in a row or a supermoon and an eclipse happening.”
These lunar events are very rare, there something a whole generation hasn’t seen before, says Petro.
Whether you’re going to see the supermoon in person or not, take a look at 12 amazing photos of the supermoon eclipse below.
[Header Image via Flickr / Jimmy Baikovicius]