Supermoon: What to know and when to see the celestial event

The full moon on Tuesday night might look a little larger than normal.

Dubbed a supermoon, it will be the second one of the year.

amNewYork spoke with experts at the American Museum of Natural History to find out what exactly a supermoon is and the best way to see it. 

Here’s what we found out:

What is a supermoon?

A supermoon is when a full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth on its elliptical orbit (which is known as perigee).

“It’s a very loose definition,” said Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist at AMNH’s Department of Astrophysics. Each supermoon can vary in distance from the Earth since it’s based on the moon’s orbit at the time, she said. 

Where did the term supermoon come from?

A supermoon isn’t even an astronomy term, it’s an astrology term – and yes, there’s a difference, said Emily Rice, a research associate at the AMNH and assistant professor at CUNY College of Staten Island.

While astronomy studies the science of the universe, including stars, planets and galaxies, astrology is the study of how the movement of celestial bodies supposedly affects humans and nature on Earth.

But back to the supermoon: Richard Nolle, an astrologer in the late 1970s, coined the term supermoon to describe when the full moon happens closest to perigee.

The astronomy term for the supermoon is perigee-syzygy, Faherty said. Syzygy refers to when the Earth, moon and sun all line up, but the supermoon is just one type of syzygy, Rice added.

How many supermoons are there per year?

The supermoon happens fairly regularly because of its loose definition, Faherty said. The last supermoon was just a month ago on Jan. 21.

After Tuesday, the next supermoon will be on March 21.

Date and time of the upcoming supermoon

The supermoon will occur on Tuesday, Feb. 19. In New York, the moon will rise at 5:46 p.m. and set on Feb. 20 at 6:56 a.m., according to the United States Naval Observatory.

Will New Yorkers be able to see the supermoon?

As long as there are clear skies, New Yorkers will be able to see the moon. But it may not look much different than any other full moon, Faherty warned, explaining that someone would have to watch the moon every night to really see the difference.

“The best thing you can do is to watch a moonrise,” Faherty said, adding that the best view will be from the top of a tall building in Manhattan.

When the moon is on the horizon, there is an optical illusion that makes it look larger, Faherty explained.

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