The bright side of the Moon


Sometimes I think I am spitting in the wind to do astronomy outreach, especially with a partner like

“July 10, 2014: In June of last year, a full Moon made headlines.  The news media called it a “supermoon” because it was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2013.”

Sadly, this is incorrect.  The “supermoon” is 14% bigger etc than the apogee moon……and only that one.  The news wires pick this up, and now the prevailing idea is that you have some number of “average” moons and then a “supermoon.”  If you are going to argue that the supermoon foolishness is a teaching opportunity, fine, but then use it to teach that the Moon distance at full changes each month in a cycle from smallest to largest, farthest to nearest.

But wait, there’s more!

“If you thought one supermoon was bright, how about three….? The full Moons of summer 2014—July 12th, August 10th, and Sept. 9th–will all be supermoons.”


Well, you might be charitable and think that perhaps there is something unique about 2014.
But that’s not the case.
For the last three years, time of full Moon from perihelion

2012:  April +21h  May 0h   June -21h
2013   May  +21h   June 0h   July -21h
2014   July   +21h   August 0h   September  -22h

anyone see a pattern here?

So what’s changed?  Obviously someone thinks more hype is better.  Maybe next year they can all be supermoons.  Think I’m kidding?  This from the Washington Post:

“There are technically five supermoons by definition in 2014, but only the full moons of July, August, and September will be visible. The other two happen during the new moon phase, when it is invisible on Earth.”

I could agree that getting people out to look at the sky is a great thing, I know some of you run star parties for this.  (We don’t have telescopes at the planetarium, and the local group is not generally wanting to drag telescopes out for the Full Moon, which here means you will see pretty much nothing else in the haze.)

Still…is there some reason why a NASA sponsored website feels the need to hype to the point of incorrectness?  To lead the bandwagon? Now I have to ask people to forget the incorrect stuff and I’m ruining the three month supermoon story, signs and portents in the sky oh my.    But I can’t….all of us together don’t….reach anywhere near the number of people reached by all the news services.

To me, the tsunami of incorrect or half-right ideas of this far outweigh any educational outcomes.

Might as well deliberately re-run the Mars as big as the Full Moon email….at least people might go out and look at the sky?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on The bright side of the Moon

Comments are closed.