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How many supermoons in 2019?

We are to embark on a series of three full supermoons on January 21, February 19 and March 21, 2019. Of these, the February 19th full moon will showcase the closest and largest full supermoon of 2019.

January 1, 2018, full supermoon over Seattle, Washington from Gary Peltz. See more photos of the January 1, 2018, supermoon.

A supermoon is a new or full moon closely coinciding with perigee, the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit.

According to the original definition of supermoon – coined by Richard Nolle in 1979 – a full moon or new moon has to come within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth to be dubbed a supermoon. In other words, any full moon or new moon that comes to within 224,775 miles or 361,740 km (or less) of our planet, as measured from the centers of the moon and Earth, is a supermoon.

This year, in 2019, the moon at its closest point to Earth resides 221,681 miles (356,761 km) away. At this juncture, the moon is said to be at 100 percent of its closest approach for the year.

In 2019, the moon at its farthest point swings out to 252,622 miles (406,555 km) from Earth. At that time, the moon is said to be at 0 percent of its closest approach.

At its closest point for the year, the moon is approximately 30,000 miles or 50,000 km closer than at its most distant. If you do the math, 90 percent of the moon’s closest approach is 224,775 miles (361,740 km).

So, by Nolle’s definition, when is the next supermoon?

The next supermoon comes with the January 21 full moon, which is, moreover, to stage a total lunar eclipse. This supermoon on January 21 ushers in the first in a series of three full supermoons falling on January 21, February 19 and March 21, 2019. Of these, the February 19th full moon showcases the closest and largest full supermoon of 2019.

Full moon distance (2019 Jan 21): 222,274 miles or 357,715 km
Full moon distance (2019 Feb 19): 221,734 miles or 356,846 km
Full moon distance (2019 Mar 21): 224,173 miles or 360,772 km

Still to come in 2019 … a series of new moon supermoons will occur when the new moon closely pairs up with perigee on August 1 and 30 plus September 28.

Here’s a comparison between the December 3, 2017, full moon at perigee (closest to Earth for the month) and the year’s farthest full moon in June 2017 at apogee (farthest from Earth for the month) by Muzamir Mazlan at Telok Kemang Observatory, Port Dickson, Malaysia. More photos of the December 2017 supermoon.

The second of these three new moon supermoons on August 30, 2019, will present the closest new moon supermoon of 2019. Of course, these new moons will be invisible to the eye, but they will bring about larger than usual perigean spring tides.

The full moon supermoon series will recur after 14 lunar months (14 returns to full moon). That’s because 14 returns to full moon almost exactly equal 15 returns to perigee, a period of about 1 year 1 month and 18 days:

Full moon distance (2020 Mar 09): 222,081 miles or 357,404 km
Full moon distance (2020 Apr 08): 221,851 miles or 357035 km
Full moon distance (2020 May 07): 224,429 miles or 361,184 km

The new moon supermoon series will also recur after 14 lunar months (14 returns to new moon). Thus we’ll have new supermoons on September 17, October 16 and November 15, 2020.

Some astronomers have complained about the name supermoon … but we notice even the diehards are starting to use it now. Such is the power of folklore.

The term supermoon has entered the popular culture. for example, Supermoon is the title track of Sophie Hunger’s 2015 album. It’s a nice song! Check it out in the video below.

Before we called them supermoons, we in astronomy called these moons perigean full moons, or perigean new moons. Perigee just means near Earth.

The moon is full, or opposite Earth from the sun, once each month. It’s new, or more or less between the Earth and sun, once each month.

And, every month, as it orbits Earth, the moon comes closest to Earth, or to perigee. The moon naturally swings farthest away once each month, too; that point is called apogee.

No doubt about it. Supermoon is a catchier term than perigean new moon or perigean full moon.

Supermoons are bright! Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona, said the supermoon on the night of January 1 – closest supermoon of 2018 – was “almost “blindingly” bright. This is a 9-image HDR merged in Photoshop and processed with efex. Each image is spaced by 0,3 stops. See more photos of the January 1, 2018, supermoon.

Supermoons don’t look bigger to the eye than ordinary full moons, although experienced observers say they can detect a difference.

But supermoons do look brighter than ordinary full moons! The angular diameter of a supermoon is about 7 percent greater than that of the average-size full moon and 14 percent greater than the angular diameter of a micro-moon (year’s farthest and smallest full moon). Yet, a supermoon exceeds the area (disk size) and brightness of an average-size full moon by some 15 percent – and the micro-moon by some 30 percent. For a visual reference, the size difference between a supermoon and micro-moon is proportionally similar to that of a U.S. quarter versus a U.S. nickel.

What’s more, Earth’s oceans feel the extra pull of supermoons. All full moons (and new moons) combine with the sun to create larger-than-usual tides, called spring tides. But closer-than-average full moons (or closer-than-average new moons) – that is, supermoons – elevate the tides even more. These extra high spring tides are wide ranging. High tides climb up especially high, and, on the same day, low tides plunge especially low. Experts call these perigean spring tides, in honor of the moon’s nearness. If you live along an ocean coastline, watch for them! They typically follow the supermoon by a day or two.

Do extra-high supermoon tides cause flooding? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Flooding typically occurs when a strong weather system accompanies an especially high spring tide.

Around each new moon (left) and full moon (right) – when the sun, Earth, and moon are located more or less on a line in space – the range between high and low tides is greatest. These are called spring tides. A supermoon – new or full moon at its closest to Earth – accentuates these tides. Image via physicalgeography.net.

About three or four times a year, the new or full moon coincides closely in time with the perigee of the moon—the point when the moon is closest to the Earth. These occurrences are often called 'perigean spring tides.' The difference between ‘perigean spring tide’ and normal tidal ranges for all areas of the coast is small. In most cases, the difference is only a couple of inches above normal spring tides. Image and caption via NOAA.

About 3 or 4 times a year, or more often, a new or full moon coincides with the moon’s closest point to Earth, or perigee. There’s usually only a small difference – typically a couple of inches (or centimeters) – between these “perigean spring tides” and normal tidal ranges. But, at these times, if a storm strikes along a coastline, flooding can occur. Image via NOAA.

Extra-close supermoons from 2010 to 2020 (less than 357,000 km)

2010 Jan 30 (356,593 km)

2011 Mar 19 (356,575 km)

2012 May 06 (356,955 km)

2013 Jun 23 (356,991 km)

2014 Aug 10 (356,896 km)

2015 Sep 28 (356,877 km)

2016 Nov 14 (356,509 km)

2018 Jan 02 (356,565 km)

2019 Feb 19 (356,761 km)

2020 Apr 08 (356,907 km)

There wasn’t an extra-close perigee full moon – a closest full supermoon – in 2017 (by “extra-close,” we’re considering moons less than 357,000 kilometers from Earth). After November 14, 2016, the extra-close coincidence of full moon and perigee didn’t happen again until January 1-2, 2018.

Looking further into the future, the perigee full moon will come closer than 356,500 kilometers for the first time in the 21st century (2001-2100) on November 25, 2034 (356,446 km). The closest full moon of the 21st century will fall on December 6, 2052 (356,425 km).

By the way, some astronomers call the full moons listed above proxigee full moons. The word proxigee just means an extra-close perigee.

But, like many of you, we’ll have fun just calling ’em supermoons.

What most call a Blue Moon isn't blue in color. It's only Blue in name. This great moon photo from EarthSky Facebook friend Rebecca Lacey in Cambridge, Idaho.

Happy supermoons, y’all! This great moon photo comes from EarthSky Facebook friend Rebecca Lacey in Cambridge, Idaho.

Bottom line: The first three full moons of 2019 are supermoons. The next supermoons of 2019 will be the new moons of August 1 and 30 plus September 28.

Read more: Tides and the pull of the moon and sun

Read more: Why experts disagree on what’s a supermoon

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Bruce McClure

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