The fourth and final supermoon of 2020 occurs this week. Whether you’ll be able to see May’s full flower moon — so called because it’s the time of year flowers start blooming — depends on the weather forecast, of course, but it will appear big and bright for several days.
The moon reaches perigee — the point it passes closest to Earth in its orbit — at 6:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Thursday, but it will be below the horizon by then. To gaze it at its biggest and brightest, head outdoors Wednesday evening. The moon rises at 7:10 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
The moon will appear big and bright from Tuesday evening through Friday morning, NASA says. Because it is so bright, it will for the most part wash out the Eta Aquarids meteor shower peak as the Earth plows through a debris trail left behind by Halley’s Comet.
The shower peaks before dawn Tuesday, and there may be a few stray meteors for a few days after. The shower runs through May 28, producing up to 30 meteors at its peak.
The moon orbits the Earth in an elliptical pattern and is 221,500 miles from us when it reaches its closest point, called perigee. When that happens during the full moon phase, it’s called a supermoon because it appears about 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than normal full moons.
Supermoon isn’t an astronomical term but one coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 to describe the trick of the eye that occurs when the moon reaches 90 percent of perigee. There are three or four consecutive supermoons in any given year.
If you can get outside to take a look at the moon this week, by all means do so. There won’t be another supermoon until May 2021, NASA points out.
The May full moon is also known as the corn planting moon and the milk moon in the United States. In Asia, it is known as the Vesak Festival Moon because it corresponds with Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima, a Buddhist holiday that marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha.
The actual date of the Vesak festival depends on the calendar used in different countries and regions, but generally falls on or near the day of the May full moon.
Related: 2020 Guide To Meteor Showers
The next chance to catch a meteor shower isn’t until mid-summer, when the long-running Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks July 28-29. Produced by debris left behind by the Marsden and Kracht comets, this modest shower produces about 20 meteors an hour from July 12 to Aug. 23.
A second-quarter moon will wash out some of the faintest meteors, but patient skywatchers may be rewarded. The meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius but are visible anywhere in the sky.
The Delta Aquariids and the Perseids, one of the best meteor showers of the year, run concurrently for about a month. The Perseids produce up to 60 shooting stars an hour at the Aug. 13-13 peak.
The Perseids shower, which runs July 17 to Aug. 24, is known for producing large numbers of bright meteors. A second-quarter moon will wash out some of the faintest meteors, but this shower is so bright and prolific that it should still be a winner.
The Perseids fly mainly after midnight and can be seen anywhere in the sky, though they radiate from the constellation Perseus.
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