You don’t need a Ph.D. in astrophysics to bask in the pearlescent light of the Moon. When the Moon is full and the sky is clear, it’s hard to miss as long as you’re looking up. But there are Full Moons, and then there are Supermoons.
Every so often, the Moon seems to transform into a huge, glowing version of itself — a Supermoon. At these times, the Moon becomes much harder for us Earthlings to ignore. Yet Supermoons are not merely a swollen variation on a regular Full Moon; in fact, they are the result of the Earth and the Moon’s gravitational relationship with one another, as the Moon orbits the Earth.
In advance of 2021’s final Supermoon and in anticipation of the Supermoons of 2022, here are five essential data points that could change your perspective on this celestial event for good, as well as the dates and times of the next Supermoons to look out for.
What is a Supermoon?
Maybe you’ve looked up at a particularly large Full Moon and this song immediately began in your head. You were likely looking at not just any Full Moon, but a Supermoon.
A Supermoon occurs when the Full Moon coincides with the moment in the Moon’s orbit when it is at the closest point to Earth — this point is called the perigee. The perigee is about 226,000 miles from Earth. On the other hand, the apogee — the point in the Moon’s orbit that is farthest from us — is 252,595 away, and yields a “Micromoon.”
When the Full Moon is less than 226,830 miles away from Earth, its nearness to our planet makes our satellite appear 7 percent larger and 15 percent brighter than usual to the naked eye. That is a Supermoon.
The Moon’s orbit around the Earth lasts 27 days, seven hours, and 43 minutes, hence about one Full Moon per month. (You may already know that the occasional second Full Moon in a calendar month is known as a Blue Moon.)
During its journey, the Moon grows and shrinks through phases, swelling from a toenail clipping-like sliver to a sumptuous orb and back down again. When our satellite reaches the fullest phase while at the perigee, the Supermoon appears in all its glory.
Can a Supermoon and a lunar eclipse happen on the same day?
That very thing, in fact, occurred just last month! May’s Super Flower Blood Moon resulted from a Full Moon at the perigee occurring during a lunar eclipse, which is the moment in space and time when the Earth sits directly aligned between the Sun and Moon.
The mitigating Earth blocks the Sun from casting its light onto the Moon, so it sits in darkness for anywhere from a few minutes to hours.
May 2021’s Full Moon appeared red in color. That is because the Earth’s atmosphere refracted the Sun’s light toward the shadowed Moon, and poured longer red wavelengths from the visible spectrum onto the milky surface, turning it scarlet.
The next lunar eclipse will occur in May 2022.
While the phenomenon is wondrous to behold, it’s not all that uncommon. We get at least one Supermoon a year, and lunar eclipses come around once every couple of years.
How many Supermoons have there been in 2021?
This year, Supermoons have shone above us twice before:
- Once on the night of April 26, when the Moon reached its perigee at 11:31 p.m. Eastern.
- Once in the early morning of May 26, when the Moon reached its perigee at 4:47 a.m. Eastern.
The former was actually a Pink Moon (cue Nick Drake), while the latter bore the impressive title Super Flower Blood Moon.
The next one will occur on June 24, but the Moon will reach perigee at 2:40 p.m. Eastern, so it won’t be quite as spectacular as the first two Supermoons of 2021 (but still very impressive!).
This year has been unusual in that we will experience three Supermoon events. Earth last saw a Supermoon trilogy over the months of July, August, and September of 2014.
But don’t worry if you didn’t catch the trifecta this year. Next year in 2022 we also get three consecutive Supermoons: in June, July, and August.
When is the 2021’s June Supermoon date?
The Super Strawberry Moon will be looking its juiciest at 2:40 p.m. Eastern. on June 24. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, June’s full Moon is nicknamed the Strawberry Moon — not because of any color change, but because of the season’s ripening berries.
So this third Supermoon might best be called the Super Strawberry Moon.
And days before the final Supermoon, Earth will experience a different celestial event: The Summer Solstice. This is the day with the most hours of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere. This solstice occurs every year on June 21, and it marks the point in our orbital path when the Earth’s North Pole is tilted closest to the Sun.
If you have caught the lunar fever, then this calendar can offer a guide to other celestial events in 2021. But a few notable events include a Blue Moon on August 22 and a partial lunar eclipse on November 19.
Supermoon 2022 calendar
In 2022 there will be three Supermoons:
- Tuesday, June 14
- Wednesday, July 15
- Friday, August 12
As a bonus, May 16 2022 will also feature a total lunar eclipse that will be visible throughout all of North America.
How to look at a Supermoon
If you gaze up at the Moon with the naked eye, you may see splotches of grey interrupting the Moon’s ivory surface. These grey splotches are actually the scars of ancient, solidified lava flows, while the paler areas are the Moon’s primordial crust, tinted by a white mineral called anorthite.
Try binoculars or a telescope for more resolution and the opportunity to make out the deep gullies, craters, and mountain ranges that pockmark and criss-cross the Moon’s surface. NASA recommends binoculars with a magnification of at least 7.
NASA also has a Moon observation journal to track the changing Moon phases throughout the month, so you can keep looking up at our natural satellite and mark its changing appearance throughout the year to come. A Full Moon calendar for 2021 can also be found here.