The First Visible Supermoon for 2020?

February 2020 Supermoon taken from Princes Town, South Trinidad on Saturday 8th February 2020 (Photo Credit: Freeda SaherFree)

Trinidad and Tobago skies will be lit tonight (Sunday) and tomorrow (Monday) night with the first visible supermoon of 2020.

This will be the first of four larger than usual full moons, which will occur in four consecutive months – February 9th/10th, March 9th/10th, April 7th/8th (the largest visible supermoon for 2020) and May 7th, 2020.

The February 2020 Super Moon

Supermoons occur annually. It is not a harbinger of natural disasters or the end of the world, but part of the moon’s orbit around Earth.

What makes this moon ‘Super’

 Perigee versus Apogee (Supermoon vs Micromoons)
Perigee versus Apogee (Supermoon vs Micromoons)

The moon has an elliptical orbit around Earth in the same way that the Earth has an elliptical orbit around the Sun. This results in a point in its orbit where the Moon will be closest to (perigee) and furthest away (apogee) from earth.

During a Supermoon, which is not a scientific term, a perigee syzygy occurs – meaning that the Earth, Sun, and Moon are all in alignment.

There is some debate on whether this (February’s full moon) qualifies as a supermoon. TimeandDate.com says, “There are no official rules as to how close or far the moon must be to qualify as a supermoon or a micro moon. Different outlets use different definitions. Due to this, a full moon classified as a supermoon by one source may not qualify as a super full moon by another.” But their definition is “a Supermoon is designated when the Moon is less than 360,000 Kilometers away from the center of the Earth and appears about 7% brighter than an average full Moon.”

Based on that definition, the only two visible supermoons of 2020 will be those occurring in March and April.

Earthsky.org took a comprehensive look at this battle of definitions but whether it is called one or not, the skies will definitely be spectacular with this larger-than-normal full moon.

Supermoons can be both full moons (visible), such as the February, March, April and May supermoons, and new moons (unable to see from Earth). These new moon Supermoons will occur later in 2020, on September 18th, October 16th, and November 14th.

January: Wolf Moon. February: Super Snow Moon. What does it mean?

These names – wolf, snow etc., date back to Native Americans living in what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.

You can read more about the naming of the different moons throughout the year at Space.com.

When is the best time to view the Supermoon?

The best time to enjoy a Super Full Moon, or any other Full Moon, is just after moonrise, when the Moon is close to the horizon. Just before moonset is also a good time.

When the moon rises, it does so a delicate orange, which turns to yellow, and then, as it rises higher into the sky, it becomes a bright, white orb that’s impossible to look at without hurting your eyes. It also looks bigger than when it’s high in the sky because the human brain perceives things larger when they are surrounded by other objects, such as trees, buildings, and mountains.

This is called the Moon illusion, and actually makes more of a difference to what it looks like than the real boost you get from it being a bit closer to Earth. (timeanddate.com)

The Spring Tides Are Occurring

Perigean Spring Tides

With every full moon, we get spring tides. During spring tides, the tidal range is larger than normal. This means there are higher than average high tides and lower than average low tides occur.

With every supermoon, however, we can get a phenomenon called King Tides, or Perigean spring tides. During king tides, the tidal range is even higher than usual, with higher high tides and lower low tides than usual. This can be particularly hazardous to coastal communities that suffer from coastal flooding, particularly if it coincides with a hazardous seas event.

Weather Forecast

Presently, we have an increased (but slowly decreasing) concentration of Saharan Dust in the atmosphere. This may be a hindrance to local sky gazers with telescopes.

In addition, partly cloudy skies with brisk isolated showers are possible this evening through tonight.

Regardless of these features, you should be able to get a glimpse of the first visible supermoon of 2020 between the brief cloudy spells.

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