Have clear skies Monday night? Look up and take at least a few moments to observe the magnificence of the Super Pink Moon.
The Moon will be up all night tonight, from sunset to sunrise. Check your local forecast on our the website or on our app to see if your sky conditions are suitable for viewing the night sky.
WHAT IS A 'PINK' MOON?
Regardless of its name, gazing up at the Moon tonight, we will not see it turn pink. We'll have to wait until the next Full Moon, in May, for the Moon to actually change colour.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, each Full Moon of the year goes by several names. The name given to the April Full Moon is Pink Moon. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.
As for why April's Moon is called the Pink Moon, the Almanac says: "February is typically a time of heavy snowfall."
This graphic collects all the relevant data about each Full Moon of 2021, including their popular names, whether they are a 'super' or 'micro' Moon, a perigee or apogee Full Moon, and whether they are remarkable in some other way (Blue Moon or Harvest Moon). Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Scott Sutherland
Most of these Full Moon names are simplifications or loose translations of names and phrases from First Nations peoples. According to Western Washington University's Spanel Planetarium, many First Nations tribes had names for the April Full Moon.
Some named it after the timing of when plants bud and flower (Apache, Cherokee, Mohawk, Sioux, and Tlingit), or when they harvested things such as maple sugar (Abenaki) and blackberries (Choctaw), or when they planted crops (Algonquin and Winnebago). Others named them after the general seasonal trends of spring (Comanche, Creek, Passamaquoddy, Shoshone, and Zuni), or the chores that occupied their daily lives during this month (Lakota and Kalapuya).
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FIRST OR SECOND SUPER MOON??
The April 26-27 Full Moon is a supermoon, which means that it appears larger and brighter in the sky tonight.
Depending on who you ask or how closely you want to track these things, this is either the first of two supermoons for 2021, or it is the second of four.
A supermoon is a Full Moon that is at or closer than 361,524 km from Earth. Based on that, of the dozen Full Moons of 2021, only those in April and May are precisely timed to occur when the Moon is that close. In April, the Moon is full at exactly 11:33 p.m. ET, and at that time, it is 357,637 km away. In May, the Full Moon happens at 7:14 a.m. ET, and at that time, it will be 357,453 km away (and also smack dab in the middle of Earth's shadow).
In March, it was close. At the exact timing of the Full Moon, 2:50 p.m. ET on the 26th, the Moon was 362,153 km away. However, it closed the distance into 'supermoon' range around 10 p.m. ET that night. It will be slightly late in June, with the Full Moon occurring at exactly 2:40 p.m. ET on the 24th, at a distance of 361,594 km, just 70 km shy of making it. It slipped out of that 'supermoon' distance only 25 minutes before, though, at around 2:15 p.m. ET.
This shot of the Super Pink Moon was captured from Kelowna, B.C. on the night of April 7, 2020. Credit: Greg Cross
So, based on all of that, sure, this is the first supermoon of 2021, and there are only two actual super Full Moons this year.
Still, we are talking about some pretty slight differences applied to a fairly imprecise astrological definition. When we looked up at the March Full Moon, some very precise scientific instruments would have required for us to notice that it was only 99.7% full when it was close enough to be a supermoon. Also, according to NASA, the June Moon will be 100 per cent full for over five hours on the 24th, including over two hours when it will be at supermoon distance.
So, if we simply go with what we saw (and will see), we can easily count tonight's Super Pink Moon as the second of four supermoons for 2021.
THE MADDENING MOON ILLUSION
Seeing the Full Moon at any time of night is a spectacular sight. However, go out just after moonrise or just before moonset for what is usually an exceptional treat. It's not something the Moon itself is doing, though. It's due to a little trick of our mind known as The Moon Illusion.
There are times when the Moon actually does look bigger to us, such as during a supermoon, when the Moon is physically thousands of kilometres closer to Earth than usual. There are other times, however, when we just think it looks larger.
As our eyes take in the world around us, our brain knows from experience that objects close to us tend to appear larger and in focus. In contrast, distant objects tend to be tiny and blurry. From this, it also knows that for a distant object to appear in focus, it must be very large.
This close-up of the Harvest Moon was snapped in Calgary, AB, on September 13, 2019. Credit: Siv Heang
So, when we see a bright Full Moon hanging in the sky above the horizon — crisp and clear and in focus — while at the same time, all of the objects on the ground become smaller and blurrier the closer they are to the horizon, the combination confuses the brain. To compensate, the brain interprets the Full Moon as being much bigger than it truly is. To be clear, the Moon is certainly much larger than any of the objects on the horizon (it's 3,474 km across), but this 'illusion' gives us the impression that the Moon looks enormous!
Look up into the sky closer to the middle of the night, and the Moon will be high above our heads. Usually, it will be the only thing we see, other than the stars and maybe a few planets. At that time, the brain is focused only on the Moon, and without the other objects in the field of view to complicate matters, it is free to just 'see' its actual size.
This zoomed-in image of the Full Snow Moon was captured from Salisbury, NB, on February 9, 2020, and uploaded into the Weather Network's UGC gallery. Credit: Darlene MacLeod/Smith
We have a few tricks of our own that can cancel out the Moon illusion, though.
For the first one, we don't need technology. Just go outside after sunset and find the Moon near the horizon. Stretch your arm out towards it, and cover the Moon over with your thumb or even your pinky finger. Note how big the Moon looks compared to the digit in question, and keep that in mind. Maybe even take a picture of it, if you want. Later in the night, check out the Moon again when it is high in the sky. It may appear smaller than when you saw it earlier, but repeat the step to cover it over with your thumb or finger. Compare it with what you saw before, and you'll find that the Moon is actually precisely the same size at both times.
There is a way technology can help us, though. When the Moon is low on the horizon, take out your cellphone, turn your camera on, and point it at the Moon. Note: it is possible for the Moon illusion to still work on us when looking at a picture or video. This is because the brain will make the same judgments of distance, blurriness, and size it did when looking at a 'live' scene. Still, directly comparing what we see in the sky at that time to what is shown on our small cellphone screen can help put things into better perspective. Plus, you can also take a few pictures to upload into the Weather Network UGC Gallery while you're at it!