Supermoons. Blood Moons. Moons both Black and Blue… by now, you’d think that there was nothing new under the Sun (or Moon, as it were) when it comes to new unofficial lunar terminology.
Sure, the Moon now seems more colorful than controversial viral dress shades. Love it or loathe it, the Internet can sure set a meme in motion. And this week’s Full Moon on Thursday evening offers up one of our faves, as the most distant Full Moon of 2015 occurs on March 5th. Yup, the Mini-Moon is indeed once again upon us, a time when the Full Moon appears slightly smaller than usual as seen from the Earth. But can you really tell the difference?
The third Full Moon of the year occurs this week on Thursday, March 5th. Also known as the Worm or Sap Moon by the Algonquin tribes of New England, the moment of Full phase occurs at 18:07 Universal Time (UT) or 1:07 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST). This is also just over 10 hours after apogee, which occurs at 7:36 UT/2:36 AM EST. This month’s apogee is also an exceptionally distant one, measuring 406,385 kilometres from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon. This is just 80 kilometres shy of the most distant apogee of 2015 on September 14th, which occurs when the Moon is near New phase.
Apogee for the Moon ranges from 404,000 to 406,700 kilometres distant, and the Full Moon appears 29.3 arc minutes across near apogee versus 34.1’ across near perigee as seen from the Earth.
This is also the closest apogee near a Full Moon time-wise until January 27th, 2032.
What is a Mini-Moon? As with a Supermoon, we prefer simply defining a Mini-Moon as a Full Moon which occurs within 24 hours of apogee. That’s much more definitive in our book rather than the cryptic and often cited ‘within 90% of its orbit’ refrain for Supermoons.
And speaking of which, we’ve got three ‘Super’ Full Moons in 2015, with the very closest Super (Duper?) Full Moon occurring within an hour of perigee on September 28th during the final total lunar eclipse of the ongoing tetrad… what will the spin doctors of the Internet make of this? A ‘Super Duper Blood Moon,’ anyone?
The path of the Moon this week also takes it towards the Fall equinoctial point in the astronomical constellation of Virgo, as it crosses Leo and nicks the corner of the non-zodiacal constellation Sextans. The Moon reaches Full two weeks prior to the Vernal Equinox, which falls this year on March 20th. Keep an eye on the Moon, as the first eclipse of 2015 and this year’s only total solar eclipse also occurs just 13 hours prior to the equinox for observers in the high Arctic. (More on that next week).
Can’t wait til Thursday? Tonight, observers across Canada, northern Maine, and Europe will see a fine occultation of the star Acubens (a.k.a. Alpha Cancri) by the 94% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon:
Alpha Cancri is 175 light years distant, and folks living along the U.S./Canadian border will be treated to a fine grazing occultation as the double star plays hide and seek along the limb of the Moon. This is number 17 in an ongoing series of 21 occultations of the star by the Moon stretching out until June 20th, 2015. There’s a wide separation of 11” between the star’s A and B components, and there are suspicions from previous lunar occultations that Alpha Cancri A may itself be a double star as well.
We caught a similar occultation of the star Lambda Geminorum by the Moon this past Friday:
Ever feel sorry for moonless Venus? This Wednesday night also offers a chance to spy Venus with a brief ‘pseudo-moon,’ as +6th magnitude Uranus passes just 15’ — less than half the apparent diameter of a Full Moon — from brilliant -4th magnitude Venus. Neith, the spurious 18th century moon of Venus lives! From the vantage point of Venus on March 4th, the Earth and Moon would shine at magnitudes -2.3 and +1.5, respectively, and sit about 4 arc minutes apart.
Does the rising Full Moon look smaller to you than usual this week? While the apparent change in diameter from apogee to perigee is slight, it is indeed noticeable to the naked eye observers. Remember, the Moon is actually about one Earth radius (6,400 kilometres) more distant on the local horizon than when it’s directly overhead at the zenith. The Moon is also moving away from us at a current rate of 1-2 centimetres a year, meaning that Mini-Moons will get ever more distant in epochs hence.
Already, annular solar eclipses are currently more common than total ones by a ratio of about 11 to 9. The first annular eclipse as seen from the Earth went unheralded some time about 900 million to a billion years ago, and 1.4 billion years hence, the last total solar eclipse will occur.
Be sure to get out and enjoy the rising Mini-Moon later this week!
Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we’re proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your fridge or observatory wall. Not only is this the yearly article that we jokingly refer to as the “blog post it takes us six months to write,” but we like to think of it as unique, a mix of the mandatory, the predictable and the bizarre. It’s not a 10 ten listicle, and not a full-fledged almanac, but something in between.
A rundown of astronomy for 2015: There’s lots of astronomical action to look forward to in the coming year. 2015 features the minimum number of eclipses that can occur, two lunars and two solars. The Moon also reaches its minimum standstill this coming year, as its orbit runs shallow relative to the celestial equator. The Moon will also occult all naked eye planets except Saturn in 2015, and will occult the bright star Aldebaran 13 times — once during every lunation in 2015. And speaking of Saturn, the rings of the distant planet are tilted an average of 24 degrees and opening to our line of sight in 2015 as they head towards their widest in 2018.
Finally, solar activity is trending downwards in 2015 after passing the sputtering 2014 maximum for solar cycle #24 as we now head towards a solar minimum around 2020.
Our best bets: Don’t miss these fine celestial spectacles coming to a sky near YOU next year:
– The two final total lunar eclipses in the ongoing tetrad, one on April 4th and September 28th.
– The only total solar eclipse of 2015 on March 20th, crossing the high Arctic.
– A fine dusk pairing of the bright planets Jupiter and Venus on July 1st.
– Possible wildcard outbursts from the Alpha Monocerotid and Taurid meteors, and a favorable New Moon near the peak of the August Perseids.
– Possible naked eye appearances by comet Q2 Lovejoy opening 2015 and comet US10 Catalina later in the year.
– The occultation of a naked eye star for Miami by an asteroid on September 3rd.
– A series of fine occultations by the Moon of bright star Aldebaran worldwide.
The rules: The comprehensive list that follows has been lovingly distilled down to the top 101 astronomical events for 2015 worldwide. Some, such as lunar eclipses, are visible to a wide swath of humanity, while others, such as many of the asteroid occultations or the sole total solar eclipse of 2015 happen over remote locales. We whittled the list down to a “Top 101” using the following criterion:
Meteor showers: Must have a predicted ZHR greater than 10.
Conjunctions: Must be closer than one degree.
Asteroid occultations: Must have a probability ranking better than 90 and occult a star brighter than magnitude +8.
Comets: Must reach a predicted brightness greater than magnitude +10. But remember: comets don’t always read prognostications such as this, and may over or under perform at whim… and the next big one could come by at any time!
Times quoted are geocentric unless otherwise noted, and are quoted in Universal Time in a 24- hour clock format.
These events are meant to merely whet the appetite. Expect ‘em to be expounded on fully by Universe Today as they approach. We linked to the events listed where possible, and provided a handy list of resources that we routinely consult at the end of the article.
Got it? Good… then without further fanfare, here’s the top 101 astronomical events for 2015 in chronological order:
13- “Shallow point” (also known as the minor lunar standstill) occurs over the next lunation, as the Moon’s orbit reaches a shallow minimum of 18.1 degrees inclination with respect to the celestial equator… the path of the Moon now begins to widen towards 2025.