The Strawberry “Minimoon” will shine with Saturn tonight. The June full moon, or the Strawberry Moon, gets its name because June marks the peak of the strawberry season when the berries are most ripe.
It is also called “minimoon” for a reason, as this month’s full moon will be the smallest of 2017. Supermoons occur when the moon coincides with perigee, which is the point in the moon’s orbit when it’s closest to Earth. On such occasions, the moon appears bigger than it actually is. However, with a minimoon, the opposite happens, as the moon coincides with apogee, the moon’s farthest point from our planet.
Strawberry Minimoon shines bright reddish light
If you are trying to see the minimoon when it’s farthest from Earth, you missed your chance, as that moment occurred on Thursday at 6:30 p.m EDT (2230 GMT), when the minimoon was 252,526 (406,401 kilometers) from Earth. The full moon happened 14 hours and 40 minutes later, at 9:10 a.m EDT (1310 GMT) on Friday morning. The moon had moved 81 miles closer to Earth, compared to the actual moment of apogee the previous night.
When the moon turns full, it will not even be entirely visible at that time across the United States, as it will have already set some hours before. If you look at the moon tonight, you’ll notice it isn’t as “full” as it normally would be, but roughly around 95 percent full.
As the moon is practically at its apogee point at that moment, it is also moving slowest in its orbit. And the defect in lightning, the apparent change in reflected sunlight on the moon’s disk, shifts more slowly than normal.
However, unless you know firsthand that the moon is either closer or farther than average, you won’t notice the change in size, according to Space.com. But, if you don’t notice the moon’s petit size on Friday, you will see the bright planet nearby, Saturn.
If weather permits it, people should be able to see Saturn glowing like a bright yellow-white “star” near the moon’s lower right. Saturn is currently shining at magnitude 0.0, which makes it a little brighter than bluish-white Vega or a little dimmer compared with orange Arcturus.
Tonight the moon will seem closer to Saturn – unless you take a picture
Saturn will appear brighter tonight in part because it’s less than a week away from its opposition to the sun, which refers to the moment during a particular apparition when a planet beyond our planet’s orbit I passing closest to us.
Another reason for its brightness is due to its rings being tilted almost at their maximum toward Earth, at an inclination of 26.5 degrees. Saturn’s rings are made of highly reflective particles of ice, which help to boost the planet’s apparent brightness. In March 2009, for instance, Saturn appeared half a magnitude dimmer than it now does, because its rings were nearly edgewise from Earth.
Tonight, the moon and Saturn will be separated by about 2.5 degrees. Considering that the moon measures about a half degree across, you might assume that when you watch the sky tonight, you’ll be able to mentally image at least five full moons in the gap that separates them. However, according to astronomers, visually they will appear much closer.
The gap actually might seem only about half that distance, which happens because the moon looks twice its real size to the eye, looking like it subtends a full 1 degree as compared to its actual size of half a degree. So tonight, you might be able to picture two or three moons squeezed between them, but certainly not five. But if you take a picture of Saturn and the moon tonight, the moon’s disk will look small, and you would indeed be able to picture five moons between them mentally. That’s because what your eyes see as an optical illusion, the camera lens does not.
Strawberry Moon is also known as the Honey Moon
The June full moon has also been referred to as the Honey Moon in recent years. The nickname comes from Guy Ottewell, who published the “Astronomical Calendar” for decades. He noted that weddings are scheduled in June more than any other month. Also, in June, the full moon’s position is the sky places it close to the sun’s position at the time of the winter solstice.
This makes sense because when the moon seems to be “full,” it always appears diametrically opposite to the sun’s position. The sun is currently approaching the summer solstice, which marks its highest point in midday sky, and correspondingly, the full moon is close to the sun’s low point –the winter solstice- so it appears to conduct a slow journey across the southern part of the sky.
“Suggestions about the origin of the word honeymoon include the drinking of mead (honey wine) by the wedded couple every day for a month in some European countries,” noted Ottewell, according to Space.com. “Honey is also a term of endearment, dating at least as back as the year 1350; a corruption of hymenae, the Greek wedding songs.”
Ottwell added that from a visual point, the June moon’s low trajectory takes it through the lowest part of the atmosphere, its light is attenuated and tends to look more amber or golden yellow, thus resembling the color of honey.
“Hence,” added Ottewell. “In June we have the ‘Honey Moon.’”