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Eyes to the sky! The last supermoon of 2022 rises tonight

Thursday, August 11th 2022, 8:50 am - A Sturgeon Supermoon will light up the sky tonight, so take a few moments to check it out!

Do you have clear skies for this week? You'll need them to catch the Super Sturgeon Moon.

There are some excellent skywatching opportunities this week. The Full Moon rises Thursday night, along with some of the brightest planets in the solar system. There is even a chance to spot meteors from a far distant comet.

'Sturgeon' Moon?

Back in the 1930s, the Maine Farmer's Almanac wrote down a list of names for each Full Moon of the year. These names were taken from various First Nations, Colonial and European folklore. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the August Full Moon is typically known as the Full Sturgeon Moon.

"The sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were said to be most readily caught during this Full Moon," the Almanac says.

2022-Full-Moon-Names-PropertiesThis graphic collects all the relevant data about each Full Moon of 2022, including their popular names, whether they are a 'super' or 'micro' Moon, a 'perigee' or 'apogee' Full Moon, and whether they are remarkable in some other way (Harvest Moon, or due to a lunar eclipse). Credit: Scott Sutherland/NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Fred Espenak

The Farmer's Almanac (yes, there's more than one) attributes Sturgeon Moon to the Algonquin peoples of the Great Lakes and what is now the U.S. Northeast. However, to the Algonquin and other First Nations peoples, 'Corn Moon' may have been the more popular name.

Other cultures assign names to Full Moons as well.

According to NASA: "This Full Moon corresponds with the Hindu festival Raksha Bandhan, celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters. One of the traditions is for sisters of all ages to tie a rakhi (a cotton bracelet) around their brother's wrist, receiving a gift from the brother in return, as a sign of the continuing bond between them. The term 'Raksha Bandhan' translates as 'the bond of protection, obligation, or care.'"

"Every Full Moon is a holiday in Sri Lanka. This Full Moon is Nikini Poya, commemorating the first Buddhist council that occurred about 2,400 years ago, sometime around 400 BCE. In Kandy, Sri Lanka, this Full Moon corresponds with the end of the Esala Perahera festival, also known as the Festival of the Tooth, a two-week Buddhist festival held each year."

NASA also says that this is the third-closest Full Moon of 2022. June's Strawberry Moon was closer, and July's Buck Moon was 2022's 'perigee Full Moon' — the closest Full Moon of the year.

Being the third closest, that makes this a Super Sturgeon Moon.

What is a 'super' moon?

A supermoon is a Full Moon that appears bigger and brighter in the sky because it is closer to Earth.

If you carefully observe the Moon, night by night, you will notice that along with its changing phases, it also gets bigger and smaller in our sky over the course of a month.

Moon-Phases-August-2022-NASA-SVSThe phases of the Moon for August 2022. Note that the size of the Moon changes from frame to frame due to the changing distance between the Moon and Earth. Credit: Scott Sutherland/NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

This apparent difference in size is due to the shape the Moon traces out as it orbits around Earth — not a perfect circle but an ellipse. So, sometimes the Moon is closer to Earth, and the nearest point it reaches in an orbit is known as perigee. At other times it is farther away, and its farthest point in an orbit is known as apogee.

The term 'supermoon' was first used by astrologer Richard Nolle, who defined it as when the Full Moon is "within 90 per cent of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit."

According to retired NASA scientist Fred Espenak, this supermoon is nearly 26 per cent brighter than January's apogee Full Moon, or around 13 per cent brighter than the average Full Moon (like the one back in March).

Read more: Why is the supermoon so compelling to us?

Planets and Perseids

If you're out gazing at the Full Sturgeon Supermoon, don't forget to look around at the rest of the sky. Jupiter and Saturn will also be visible. You can also try to spot 'shooting stars' from the Perseid meteor shower!

Sturgeon-Moon-2022-StellariumLooking to the east and south around midnight Thursday night, viewers will see the Sturgeon Moon, Jupiter and Saturn, and possibly even flashes of light in the sky from the Perseid meteor shower. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland

Jupiter is the easier of the two planets to spot once it rises above the horizon. To find Saturn, look just above and to the left of the Moon.

If you're up in the predawn hours (your best chance to see the Perseid meteor shower on that night), and you have a clear view of the entire southern sky, you can spot an entire string of bright objects across the sky — Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Full Moon.

Sturgeon-Moon-2022-predawn-StellariumIn the predawn sky, Friday morning, we have the chance to see four planets, the Full Moon, and Perseid meteors lighting up the sky. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland

The bright light from the Full Moon will make it more challenging to see dimmer Perseid meteors. However, the Perseids are famous for having the most fireballs of any other annual meteor shower, so we may still see several bright meteors, despite the bright Moon.

Read More: The best time to watch the Perseid meteor shower may be now

WATCH: See the Moon, hour by hour for all of 2022, in less than 5 minutes

Don't Miss: The best products for stargazing this summer

The Mesmerizing Moon Illusion

You step outside just after sunset, and there, looming above the horizon is a Full Moon that looks absolutely enormous! You snap a picture or two with your cellphone, and something doesn't quite look right... the Moon actually looks smaller on the phone's screen. Later, around midnight, you spot the Moon again, high above your head, and it definitely looks smaller than it did earlier.

So, what's going on?

This is not something the Moon, itself, is doing. In fact, for an observer on Earth's surface, watching at moonrise, the Moon is actually more than 6,400 km farther away from them compared to when it's directly overhead at midnight.

Moon-Illusion-Distances-Rise-v-MidnightThis graphic shows the distance between an observer on Earth's surface at moonrise vs midnight. Credit: Scott Sutherland/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Instead, the apparent change in size of the Moon between when it rises and when it's overhead is due to a trick of our mind known as The Moon Illusion.

There are times when the Moon actually does look bigger, such as during a supermoon, when the Moon is physically thousands of kilometres closer to Earth than usual. Other times, though, we just think the Moon looks larger.

As our eyes take in the world around us, our brain knows from experience that objects close to us tend to appear larger and in focus. In contrast, distant objects tend to be tiny and blurry. From this, it also knows that for a distant object to appear in focus, it must be very large.

ugc calgary full moonThis close-up of the Harvest Moon was snapped in Calgary, AB, on September 13, 2019. Credit: Siv Heang

So, when we see a bright Full Moon hanging crisp and clear in the sky above the horizon, it is contrasted by all of the objects on the ground, which appear smaller and blurrier the closer they are to the horizon. This combination confuses the brain.

So, to compensate, the brain interprets the Full Moon as being much bigger than it truly is. To be clear, the Moon is certainly much larger than any of the objects on the horizon (it's 3,474 km across), but this 'illusion' gives us the impression that the Moon looks enormous!

Full-Snow-Moon-2020-Darlene-MacLeod-Smith-UGCThis zoomed-in image of the Full Moon was captured from Salisbury, NB, on February 9, 2020, and uploaded into the Weather Network's UGC gallery. Credit: Darlene MacLeod/Smith

Look again when the Moon is high above our heads and it will seem smaller. Since there's nothing right next to it in our field of view for our brain to compare it with, we see it's 'true' size.

We have a few tricks of our own that can cancel out the Moon illusion, though.

For the first one, we don't need technology. Just go outside after sunset and find the Moon near the horizon. Stretch your arm towards it, and cover the Moon with your thumb or even your pinky finger. Note how big the Moon looks compared to the digit in question, and keep that in mind. Maybe even take a picture of it, if you want. Later in the night, check out the Moon again when it is high in the sky. It may appear smaller than when you saw it earlier, but repeat the step to cover it with your thumb or finger. Compare it with what you saw before, and you'll find that the Moon is actually precisely the same size at both times.

There is a way technology can help us, though. When the Moon is low on the horizon, take out your cellphone, turn your camera on, and point it at the Moon.

Note: it is possible for the Moon illusion to still work on us when looking at a picture or video. This is because the brain will make the same judgments of distance, blurriness, and size as it did when looking at a 'live' scene.

Still, directly comparing what we see in the sky at that time to what is shown on our small cellphone screen can help put things into better perspective. Plus, you can also take a few pictures to upload into the Weather Network UGC Gallery while you're at it!

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