Tonight’s Pink Super Moon

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Tonight’s “Pink Moon” due south at midnight and due east of Spica, forming a narrow scalene triangle with Antares to the south east. View via Stellarium.

The full moon for April, 2021 occurs tonight, April 26.

The full moon is a unique and interesting lunar phase for a variety of reasons. It always rises as the sun sets and is the only phase during which we can witness a lunar eclipse, the immersion of the moon into the earth’s shadow. As the summer months approach, the path the moon will appear to take during the night will become increasingly lower above the southern horizon for observers in the northern hemisphere until the path of the July full moon across the nighttime sky will be at its lowest point during the year and will be at the same elevation above the southern horizon as that of the January sun across the daytime sky.

So why is the April full moon known as the “Pink Moon“?

In North America and Europe, the name of each month’s moon is linked to nature and related to a particular season or seasonal activity. For example, the June full moon is known as the “Strawberry Moon” since it is during this time of year that Strawberries ripen and are thus harvested. Tonight’s full moon, the April full moon, is known as the “Pink Moon” because that’s when many pink flowers are abloom and nature has emerged (in the Northern Hemisphere) from its winter hibernation. Other names for this moon include the Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon, Hare Moon, and the Old English/Anglo-Saxon name of Egg Moon. It is also known as the Paschal Moon because it is used to calculate the date for Easter.

June’s Strawberry moon for 2009 with Scorpio’s red supergiant star Antares to the east (left), having just emerged from a “lunar occultation”. Image courtesy the author.

For millennia people across Europe, as well as Indigenous Native Americans, named the months according to natural aspects of the seasons or features they associated with the Northern Hemisphere seasons, and many of these names are very similar or identical.

Next month’s moon for May is the Flower Moon as all flowers are in bloom during May in the northern hemisphere. For a comprehensive list of the various Full Moon names and their respective month please visit this page.

Tonight’s moon is also significant in that it’s the first “Super Moon” for 2021. What is a “Super Moon”?

Kepler’s First Law of Orbital Motion teaches us that all orbits are elliptical, some orbits more elliptical than others, the magnitude of the ellipse depending on the respective masses of each body. All elliptical orbits necessarily have an apogee, the most distant point in the orbit and a perigee, the closest point in the orbit to the other orbiting body. In the case of our moon, a supermoon occurs when the moon is at its perigee point during the full moon phase and will thus appear ever so slightly larger simply because it’s closer. This year’s first supermoon occurs with this month’s “Pink Moon“.

 

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