Avid stargazers and newcomers to the nighttime hobby can look forward to a lunar event next month: A super “pink” moon will rise into the night sky on April 7th, the brightest supermoon of 2020.
A supermoon occurs when a full moon happens on the same night the moon reaches perigee, or the closest point to Earth in its orbit. (Apogee is its furthest point from Earth in its orbit.) In April, the full moon peaks at 10:35 EDT. Though the moon is called a “pink” moon, its color won’t be any different than normal. It will be golden orange when low in the sky, and brighten to white as it rises. The name comes from pink wildflowers called creeping phlox that bloom in early spring, under April’s full moon, per Catherine Boeckmann at the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Supermoons are only about seven percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than the average full moon, so the difference may not be obvious. The slight change in size happens because the moon follows an eccentric orbit around Earth that isn’t perfectly circular. On March 24, for example, Earth’s lunar companion reached its furthest apogee of the year, about 252,707 miles away. On April 7th, it will be about 30,000 miles closer, only 221,772 miles from Earth. That’s only a few hundred miles further than the closest supermoon in recent history, which occurred in November 2016.
Supermoon isn’t a scientific term for the astronomical event—that term is “perigee-syzygy.” Rather, the term supermoon was introduced by astrologer Richard Noelle in 1979.
“It didn’t have much science behind it, except that he coined a term for when the moon was full, when it was 90 percent of the closest distance it could be to Earth. And a couple of years ago, it just caught on,” Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, told NPR’s Rachel Martin in 2016. “I think it’s just because someone took the word ‘super’ and put it in front of the word ‘moon.’”
Other names for an April full moon include Sprouting Grass, Egg, and Fish moon, all names that evoke thoughts of early spring. This year’s super pink moon is also a paschal moon because of its closeness to Easter, which is April 12.
For those staying at home, April will bring a number of other moon- and stargazing events to see outside at night. This Friday, Venus will be visible near a cluster of stars called the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, according to Alan MacRobert at Sky & Telescope. And as Brian Lada writes for AccuWeather, the Lyrids meteor shower peaks on April 22 and 23.
Michelle Nichols, director of public observing at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, tells WBEZ’s Katherine Nagasawa that people can easily stargaze near their home, even in a city. Both light pollution and air pollution can impact how stars appear in the sky, but lately, air pollution has fallen as there are fewer cars on the road and fewer factories at work.
“There’s no one best spot to observe the sky,” Nichols says. “The best place to observe the sky is wherever you currently are. So you don’t have to find that perfect location — it doesn’t exist. There are some sites that are better than others, but truly get to know the sky where you are.”