For those of you not in a part of the world too cold (or too far) to go outside and take a look, today brings a rare appearance of the year’s largest full moon, with a bonus appearance by planet Mars, just to the left of the moon. This report from National Geographic:
The biggest full moon of 2010 will rise in the east tonight, and it’ll appear with a bright sidekick: Mars will cozy up just to the left of the supersize moon.
January’s full moon is also called the wolf moon, according to Native American tradition associating this month’s full moon with wolves howling in the cold midwinter.
The 2010 wolf moon will appear 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than any other full moon this year, because our cosmic neighbor will actually be closer to Earth than usual.
The moon will be at its closest perigee—the nearest it gets to our planet during its egg-shaped orbit—for 2010 at 4:04 a.m. ET Saturday, reaching a distance of 221,577 miles (356,593 kilometers) from Earth.
At its farthest from Earth, the moon is said to be at apogee. Perigee and apogee each happen generally once a month, but the moon’s wobbly orbit means that the satellite’s exact distance at each of those events varies over the year. The moon’s phase can also be different during each apogee and perigee.
“This month has the largest full moon of 2010, because it coincides with the special moment when the full moon happens to occur on the same day as it is at perigee,” said Marc Jobin, an astronomer at the Montréal Planetarium.
And in a remarkable coincidence, Mars is at opposition tonight—directly opposite to the sun in the sky—so that as the sun sets in the southwest, Mars rises in the northeast.
Around opposition, the red planet gets closest to Earth. This year Mars swung by at just 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) on January 27, and it will still appear remarkably bright during tonight’s sky show…
[continues at National Geographic]