Or, as the scientists call it, perigee-syzygy. It happens when the moon’s elliptical orbit swings about 15,000 miles closer to earth than usual, and coincides with a full moon. The result is a moon that appears noticeably larger and brighter than usual. Those conditions together with a clear night make for a spectacular show.
In the first year that The Husband and I were dating, I came home from work to my apartment and found him waiting with a surprise: a telescope. Not a simple hobby-store stargazing telescope, but an expensive Newtonian rig with a six-inch mirror. This telescope is almost as tall as I am and rests in a special base for tilting and swiveling to follow stars, planets and moons as these move across the night sky.
We had our first dates under the magical gaze of the Hale-Bopp comet that dominated the sky during the spring of that year. Every time we went outside, I would look up. He noticed. So instead of jewelry or some other bauble, The Husband went with a telescope to show me how much he was really starting to care about me. It was then that I knew for sure, this guy gets me.
A Newtonian telescope is a fragile, bulky piece of equipment that does not lend to casual stargazing. It has to be carefully hauled to a wide open area free of light pollution, but if you hang in there and get set up on a clear night when some planets are visible to the naked eye as brighter-looking stars, you are in for an awe-inspiring sight.
Elementary school mobiles and picture books, even NASA photos in textbooks do not properly prepare for peering into the eyepiece and seeing an actual planet.
Saturn’s rings visible as if someone stuck a cardboard cut-out on the end of the telescope. Your brain nearly cannot comprehend that the eye is looking at the actual Saturn, right now, about 800 million miles away.
Jupiter has that tell-tale stormy red eye and four large moons that change position, because they are orbiting, when you peek through the eyepiece to glimpse a part of our solar system 500 million miles away.
Our moon through a telescope is a bright landscape. A real place with mountains and valleys, and crater-scars of meteor strikes. These features are somewhat visible on your run-of-the-mill moon as shadowy areas.
There, every night, whether we see it or not. Sometimes a breath-catching moonrise when it seems ready to smother the earth until it moves further up from the horizon. Or a super thin crescent moon that is a smug Cheshire cat grin, until a few days of phase changes raises a ho-hum half-moon.
Then along comes a Supermoon, a gravitational party that maybe churns the oceans a little more, and surely stirs dreams a lot. The same moon, just more.
Sometimes getting a good, close-up look at an everyday something makes for a rare opportunity to see, really see, the true magic of what’s always been there.