Last night the moon and Jupiter glided companionably across the sky with the stars of Gemini all night long. What a beautiful sight!
If you happened to catch a glimpse of the moon low on the horizon as she rose or set, you would have noted how much larger she appeared from her transit over the meridian, just a little after midnight. That's the result of the optical illusion where objects at the horizon appear larger. In reality, the moon appears a little smaller than usual this month since it is approaching its apogee - the point where it is farthest away from the earth during its orbit. It will reach its apogee tonight, Thursday, December 19. Because it was approaching this point during its full phase 2 days ago, this year's Long's Night Moon was the smallest full moon of 2013.
Unsurprisingly, we don't get very many requests to create the smallest full moon of the year on wedding, anniversary, or birthday prints. But when the moon is at perigee during its full phase, requests to render "supermoons" pour in. "Supermoon" is not an astronomical term but rather one recently coined by the popular media. However, just like the full moon at apogee doesn't appear significantly smaller, the full moon at perigee isn't significantly bigger than a regular full moon.
See for yourself tonight whether you can tell that the moon is as far away as it can be in its orbit around us. It will be separating from Jupiter, but the two will still be close enough to chat. You'll have another chance to collect data on the moon's apogee during the next full moon, January 15, 2014, once again a small full moon.
And happy winter solstice! For us in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Sun appears to stand still in the southern sky, we honor the Sun's generative light by awaiting its return. Early in human history, our ancestors were not convinced that the Sun would return unless they performed their elaborate cultural rituals. Today we're a little more certain that the Sun will trek north once more, but I hope you take a moment on December 21 to tune into the comforting rhythms and the dazzling mysteries of the Universe.