November Supermoon a Spectacular Sight
The moon is a familiar sight in our sky, brightening dark nights and reminding us of space exploration, past and present. But the upcoming supermoon — on Monday, Nov. 14 — will be especially “super” because it’s the closest full moon to Earth since 1948. We won’t see another supermoon like this until 2034.
The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth.
The moon is a familiar sight, but the days leading up to Monday, Nov. 14, promise a spectacular supermoon show. When a full moon makes its closest pass to Earth in its orbit it appears up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter, making it a supermoon. This month’s is especially ‘super’ for two reasons: it is the only supermoon this year to be completely full, and it is the closest moon to Earth since 1948. The moon won’t be this super again until 2034!
The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).
If you’re not an early riser, no worries. “I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine. Since the moon is full, it’ll rise at nearly the same time as sunset, so I’d suggest that you head outside after sunset, or once it’s dark and the moon is a bit higher in the sky. You don’t have to stay up all night to see it, unless you really want to!”
This is actually the second of three supermoons in a row, so if the clouds don’t cooperate for you this weekend, you will have another chance next month to see the last supermoon of 2016 on Dec. 14.
Nothing beats a bright and beautiful “supermoon.” Except maybe, three supermoons! 2016 ends with a trio of full moons at their closest points to Earth.
NASA scientists have studied the moon for decades. A better understanding of our moon helps scientists infer what is happening on other planets and objects in the solar system. “The moon is the Rosetta Stone by which we understand the rest of the solar system,” Petro said.
LRO has been mapping the moon’s surface and capturing high resolution images for more than seven years. Extensive mapping of the moon aids scientists in understanding our planet’s history, as well as that of planetary objects beyond the Earth-moon system.
“Because we have the Apollo samples, we can tie what we see from orbit to those surface samples and make inferences about what has happened to the moon throughout its lifetime,” Petro said. “The samples tell us how old certain lunar surfaces are, and based on the number of impact craters on those surfaces, we can estimate the ages of the rest of the moon. Furthermore, we can then apply those models to estimate the ages of surface on other planets in our solar system — all by studying the moon!”
Weather permitting, on Sunday, Nov. 13 and Monday, Nov. 14, you’ll be treated to a showstopper supermoon that will be the closest moon to Earth in almost 70 years. We won’t see a supermoon like this until 2034, so this is a great opportunity to preserve and share the event with a great photo.
Bill Ingalls, NASA’s senior photographer and a fixture at NASA Headquarters has traveled all over the world for more than 25 years photographing missions for NASA.
Bill’s #1 tip for capturing that great lunar photo: “Don’t make the mistake of photographing the moon by itself with no reference to anything,” he said. “I’ve certainly done it myself, but everyone will get that shot. Instead, think of how to make the image creative—that means tying it into some land-based object. It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place.”
It means doing a lot of homework. Bill uses Google Maps and other apps – even a compass — to plan where to get just the right angle at the right time.”
Bill often scouts locations a day or more in advance, getting permission to access rooftops or traveling to remote areas to avoid light pollution.
You don’t have to live near an iconic landmark or talk your way onto a rooftop to get the perfect shot. Instead, work with what you have. Ingalls trekked to Shenandoah National Park in 2009 to photograph Comet Lulin and faced a challenge. “I had just basic equipment and saw all these people with great telescopes making a picture I could never get. So what could I do differently?” Ingalls aimed his long lens between the trees, using the red light of his headlamp to paint the forest with a long exposure. The result was magical, with National Geographic naming his comet image one of the top 10 space photos of the year.
Bill recommends personalizing the experience by using people in the shot. “There are lots of great photos of people appearing to be holding the moon in their hand and that kind of thing. You can get really creative with it,” he said.
viewing will still be super after sunset on both Nov. 13 and 14, with only subtle difference in the moon’s size and brightness. So this will provide lots of opportunity to experiment with different locations, exposure times and foregrounds. And if it’s cloudy on Sunday night, you can always try again on Monday.
Is it hopeless to attempt a supermoon image with a smartphone camera? Ingalls says, “It’s all relative. For me, it would be maddening and frustrating–yet it may be a good challenge, actually. You’re not going to get a giant moon in your shot, but you can do something more panoramic, including some foreground that’s interesting. Think about being in an urban area where it’s a little bit brighter.”
To get the right light balance of the moon on newer iPhones and other smartphones, “Tap the screen and hold your finger on the object (in this case, the moon) to lock the focus. Then slide your finger up or down to darken or lighten the exposure.”
Digital SLR photography
For digital SLR photography, Ingalls uses the daylight white balance setting for capturing moonlight, since sunlight is being reflected. For those with longer lenses he advises, “Keep in mind that the moon is a moving object. It’s a balancing act between trying to get the right exposure and realizing that the shutter speed typically needs to be a lot faster.”
So go try your hand on a camera and come out with an eye catching photograph of present Supermoon
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