ISS Transits Supermoon, 6 May 2012
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Published on May 7, 2012
It rarely happens that the International Space Station transits (crosses the face of) the Moon as seen from a specific location. A "Supermoon" (Perigee full moon) is even more rare (see below). On Sunday, 6 May 2012 these two rare events coincided as seen from Wellington, South Africa.
Press Release, South African Astronomical Observatory:
The Moon will make its closest approach to the Earth (at perigee) for
the year in May. It will happen early morning on Sunday 6th May at about
5:33 AM and at this time the Moon will be 357,000 km from the Earth.
This will result in the largest apparent full Moon for the year, which
also occurs on Sunday 6th May at 5:35 AM purely by coincidence! The full
Moon will have an angular size of 33.7 arc sec at this time and is
referred to as a perigee full Moon. This coincidence, whereby the full
Moon occurs at the same time as the Moon's closest approach in its orbit
happens roughly every 18 years.
The Moon will be at its furthest distance from Earth (at apogee) for the
year on December 25th when the Moon will be 406,100 km away from the
Earth. The full Moon in December, occurring on the 28th, will therefore
be the smallest apparent full Moon with an angular size of 29.1 arc sec.
Nearby perigee Moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser
Moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon's orbit.
(60 arcmin = 1 degree)
Note that the size of the Moon is not really changing, it just appears
larger or smaller from our perspective according to its distance from
us. The Moon orbits the Earth in an elliptical orbit (oval) rather than
a circle and so the distance between the Earth and the Moon varies along
its orbit. Viewing the Moon just as it rises or before it sets when it
is close to the horizon will exaggerate the effect because seeing the
Moon close to buildings or trees produces an optical illusion making the
Moon seem even larger!
The closeness of the Moon on the 6th May will have a slight effect on
tides around the world. It will result in extra-high "perigean tides".
However, in most places the tides will only be a few centimetres higher
than usual. Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15
centimeters, so no great floods or natural disasters! For example in
Cape Town the average height of spring high tides over the last 19 years
is 1.74m. The two high tides on the 6th May are predicted to be about
1.88m and 1.80m respectively, a difference of only 14cm and 6cm
respectively over average values.
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