The Final Supermoon of 2020 Rises This Week — Here's How to See It (Video)
The Super Flower Moon will rise on May 7.
If you haven't seen one of 2020’s three stunning supermoons so far, you have one last chance this week as the Super Flower Moon looms large just after sunset. The combination of a full moon (when the moon appears fully illuminated from Earth) and a supermoon (when the moon is close to Earth and appears bigger than usual) promises to be an unforgettable sight in the latter part of the week.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Super Flower Moon, including the best time to see it.
Related: More space travel and astronomy news
When is the Super Flower Moon?
May 2020’s full moon phase occurs at precisely 10:45 Universal Time on Thursday, May 7 — a global time that translates to 6:45 a.m. ET and 3:45 a.m. PT. That’s the moment of 100 percent illumination, but it's not necessarily the time you need to be outside looking at the Super Flower Moon.
What is a supermoon?
Surprisingly, a definition is not easy to pin down. “It's kind of a thorn in the side of a lot of astronomers in the sense that the definition of a 'supermoon' was not created by an astronomer, but by an astrologer,” says Dr. Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist and Senior Education Manager jointly in the Department of Astrophysics and the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “The very loose definition — and you’ll see this debated online — is that the moon is in an elliptical orbit around the Earth,” she says. “Its orbit is not a perfect circle, so sometimes it's a little bit closer and sometimes it's a little bit further away.”
The astrological definition of a supermoon is a full moon that’s at 90 percent of its closest distance to the Earth in that given orbit. “An astronomer would call a supermoon a 'perigee syzygy' moon — a full moon at its closest possible distance to Earth — but people love the word 'super,' so we go with it!” says Faherty. “I just like the idea of anything that gets people to go outside and look up at the full moon.”
When is the best time to look at the Super Flower Moon?
There are two specific times to look at the Super Flower Moon to see it at its very best — moonrise and moonset. “When the moon is very low on your horizon, you get two beautiful effects that are really what people are looking for,” says Faherty. “The first is gorgeous colours — you can see the moon looking pinkish or even a little bit orangish and yellowish when it's close to the horizon.” That applies to all full moons, but Faherty’s second bit of advice applies only to supermoons. “The second is an optical illusion. When the moon is particularly close to the horizon, our brains translate that into thinking the moon looks much bigger than it actually is,” says Faherty. “All you have to do is locate where the sun is setting and turn around and look the other way to catch the moonrise — it’s always just absolutely stunning.”
When is the next full moon?
The next full moon is the Strawberry Moon on June 5, 2020. The name comes from the seasonal ripening of the juicy summer fruit, though June’s full moon is also sometimes called the "Hot Moon” or the “Rose Moon.”
June 2020’s full moon will also give stargazers a pretty special Strawberry Moon eclipse, depending on where you live. As seen from Asia, Africa, and Australia, 57 percent of the full moon will pass partly into Earth’s giant shadow in space. That will cause a minor penumbral lunar eclipse. Sadly, the center of the moon will not turn reddish as happens during a “blood moon”— just a dull shade of grey — but watching the full moon slightly lose its glare can still be a beautiful sight on a clear night.
When is the next supermoon?
2020’s “supermoon season” is almost over, but the next one will be worth the wait. The next supermoon is the Super Pink Moon on April 27, 2021, which is followed by a rather special Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse on May 26, 2021, otherwise known as a total lunar eclipse — the first one since 2019. Observers in western North America, Australia, and China will see a rare blood moon for a scintillating 15 minutes.