Changing Planet

5 Sky Events This Week: Lord of the Rings Meets Luna, Solstice Supermoon

The beauty of the full moon rising, like this “super moon” near the Lincoln Memorial in March  2011, in Washington, D.C., is one of the most stunning sky shows not to be missed. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Gaze skyward this week and watch our solar system’s two innermost planets have a strikingly close encounter, while changing seasons brings the year’s largest moon in the sky.

Moon and Spica. On Tuesday, June 18, look towards the southern sky to see the gibbous waxing moon glide extremely close to the distant star Spica (263 light years away), which is the brilliant white member of the constellation Virgo.

By nightfall in the western hemisphere, the cosmic duo will appear about 2 degrees apart–equal to about the width of your thumb at arm’s length. From Europe and Asia they will appear even closer, and from southwest Africa and Madagascar the moon will appear to hide Spica.

June Solstice. For the northern hemisphere, summer (winter in the southern hemisphere) officially begins at 1:04 a.m. EDT on Friday, June 21 (5:04 am UT; See list of cities and local times).

During this season, the Earth’s northern axis is slightly tilted toward the sun so that the northern hemisphere gets more direct sunlight and experiences warmer temperatures. Locations south of the equator are tilted away from the sun, so that the sunlight is dispersed, making for colder temperatures.

For skywatchers on the first day of the new season and a few days afterward the sun appears to rise at the same place on the horizon – hence the origin of the word solstice, meaning ‘sun stands still’ in Latin.

 From solstice date onward the days start getting shorter and the nights longer in the northern hemisphere. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere.

Saturn Meets the Moon. On the evening of Wednesday, June 19, the moon will glide underneath the ringed-planet, less than 4 degrees apart–less than the width of your three middle fingers at arm’s length.

It’s amazing to think that despite its mind-boggling 1.38 billion kilometer (857 million mile) distance from Earth, humans have the Cassini spacecraft  orbiting the planet and its retinue of moons.

Venus and Mercury Pair Up. Also just after sunset on June 19 check out the two innermost planets in the solar system close together one last time as Mercury begins to sink back closer to the sun and drop out of sight. Face the northwest sky about 30 minutes after sunset and look very close to the horizon for the final meeting of brighter Venus and little Mercury to its left.

The planetary pair will be about 2 degrees apart, making for a cool sight through a small telescope. Mercury will appear as a thin crescent while Venus will look much like a miniature version of a gibbous moon, with nearly 94% of its disk lit.

Supermoons occur when the full moon is at it's closest to Earth, called perigee and they appear bigger and brighter than the when the moon is at its farthest and is the smallest full moon. Credit: Copyright Anthony Ayiomamitis
Supermoons occur when the full moon is at it’s closest to Earth, called perigee and they appear bigger and brighter than  when the moon is at its farthest and is the smallest full moon. Credit Copyright: Anthony Ayiomamitis (TWAN) 

Biggest Supermoon of 2013. Only two days after the solstice, in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 23, the moon will officially reach its full phase and will be the closest (356,990 kilometers or 221,823 miles) and largest ‘supermoon’ of the year.

The moon’s orbit is egg-shaped, and there are times when it is at perigee—its shortest distance from Earth in the roughly month-long lunar cycle—or at apogee, its farthest distance from Earth. If the full moon phase happens to be at the same time as the perigee then we get a supermoon, which happens once a year.

Despite all the media hype in recent years, the difference in size of the lunar disk from ‘average’ full moons will be so negligible that most moon gazers will not notice anything amiss.  Still, there is nothing quite as magical as watching that giant silvery orb rising in the east after sunset.

Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Judy Plummer

    Andrew. Thankyou so much. I’ll be a star gazer on the 18th, 19th and in the 23rd. I don’t have a telescope. What would be the best to buy. Please let me know. A regractor or a reflector. I’d appreciate an answer when you can. Your so knowledgeable. Thankyou

  • Jose Socorro Murillo Gudiño

    Excelent information,thankyou very much.

  • Elena williams

    Last Saturday we had a rainbow halo around the sun! The sun, In Seattle.

  • agbc

    Aww, a supermoon for my birthday!

  • Robert

    I already saw the supermoon in 2012 but didn’t paid attention to it. It was yellow and big, the whole sky was shining and my bedroom was very bright so I couldn’t sleep. I knew it was closer but now I know why 🙂

  • Matilde

    observando las estrellas caer en el cielo , desplazan doce la luz.. , hace muchos años cuando era pequeña vi caer un aerolito, fue un fuego inmenso que recorrió el cielo en horas de noche , creyendo que habia caido a unas pocas cuadras, fueron a varios km. Amo mirar el cielo. en las noches , despejadas , ver las estrellas , en algún lugar de altura y nitidez.Gracias. por la noticia.

  • Mary M Perreira

    Im watching from the top of my RV…

  • Latifa Rahim

    It is said above that supermoon will appear ‘in the early morning hours of Sunday’. Is it applicable for every time zone?

  • David Bellas


  • Padmanabhan Jaikumar

    It will be a marvelous phenomena to watch the occurrence provided visible to naked eyes since every one interested can not afford special equipment to watch it

  • modena stefano

    super moon is very nais

  • c.s.venkatasubramanian

    Thought provoking information

  • József Váradi

    What does it mean Supermoon?

    • The terms supermoon was first coined by an astrologer actually and most professional astronomers really cringe at the term. But it has become a popular term – mostly because of all the media coverage. It really refers to when the moon is at it’s closest point to Earth, coinciding with a a full phase- known also as a perigee full moon. Not all supermoons are the same distance – this one for instance will be a few percent closer than most other ones but skywatchers will probably not be able to notice. Still a full moon rising is an amazing sight to see.

  • MichaelSpears

    Is townsville australia good to see it

    • Yes, within an hour after your local sunset, looking towards your eastern horizon, you should see the moon rising. Try to find a spot with a flat horizon to catch those first few moments as it peeks above foreground landscape -it’s a striking sight.

  • Sanat Kumar Kar

    The sky is clouded. I am missing the view. Sad!

  • Pagano’s

    We’ll be watching and wishing the world peace.

  • Claire

    Unfair to read about supermoons in northern Canada–it doesn’t get dark enough to see the moon these days!

  • chengyan

    i saw one of those twice!

  • Peter M Ernzer

    Why do you inform the world that one of our close neighbours from Nederland finds supermoon “COOL”? This is a non-statement void of the tiniest meaning. I’ll be watching the moonrise on June 23d (our national holiday like your 4th of July) and hope for a vibrant experience.

  • Peter M Ernzer

    OK, I’m not a moderate guy, skip the cool-part.

  • Suasn White

    I’m nuts about the full moon at all times so this will be great…if we can see hit here! Forecasts indicate that we will, finally, have a rain-free, if not exactly cloud-free night.

    There’s a great scene in the film “Moonstruck”, w/Nicholas Cage, in which everyone in Little Italy, Brooklyn, is mesmerized and even driven to “crazy” acts of love by the gigantic moon, one winter.

  • Georgia May

    this is the same day as one direction’s third anniversary #fate

  • Judy Warren

    I believe that the big moon will affect our new weather record breaking events! The Tide especially hurricanes, tornadoes the power of gravity & our higher power.

  • Karren Pell

    I like your Blog

  • Predator

    Like the archaeologist in the movie said, it is a hunters moon. Stock up on meats and deli. Maybe we see some UFO’s?

  • Bridget K.

    Umm…I hope that bit about the length of days after the solstice is a typo or else it would mean the order of the universe has changed.
    I stand corrected, but i believe the northern hemisphere is about to experience long days, with short nights, based on the fact that our (southern hemisphere) days have become shorter, with the sun setting at 5pm, to only rise at 8am the next day.

    If the order of the universe has changed, we clearly didn’t get the memo:)

    • The days have been getting longer, sun rising earlier and setting later each day as we have been approaching the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Once we pass the June solstice the Earth’s North Pole begins to slowly turn away from the Sun, while the South Pole begins to turn towards the Sun, as our planet moves along it’s orbit. What this essentially means is that as we now have pasted the June Solstice and move towards the December solstice the days will begin to get shorter and nights longer North of the equator and the opposite for those south of it. The order of the universe is maintained 😉

  • Reynold

    Really!I’ve got to watch,but I’m wondering whether the weather would be good enough~

  • Maleek Powell

    Still trying to work out the best place to shoot from….

  • Saqib Iqbal

    LOL the moon looks pretty much the same size, ever so slightly brighter…hahaha…..HOAX

  • Marilyn Anderson

    Peter-so you don’t think a “vibrant experience” is very cool indeed? I sure do!!

  • Benjamin Kaman

    Thanks for the information. Last night (23rd) the Moon appeared really bright and I took a photo with my 26X Nikkor lens. There was little cloud surrounding the Moon at about 11.00pm IST (17.30 GMT), though cloud was not visible in the rest of the sky.

  • Anuj Bastola

    Thanks for the information that u have provided….. i really enjoyed that moment of brightest & biggest moon ever …..But i could not enjoy it properly as it was somehow cloudy last night .

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