Enjoy the supermoon this weekend (but it’s not as ‘super’ as you think)

TORONTO – Every few months, social media is set abuzz with stunning photos of a full moon claiming to be a “supermoon.” This weekend will be no different.

On Saturday, at 11:52 a.m. GMT (7:52 a.m. EDT), the moon will be at its perigee – the closest point in its orbit around the earth. Many people have started using the term supermoon to describe this event, with many claiming it to appear much larger than usual.

But the truth is, noticing the supposed size difference is pretty hard.

READ MORE: What is a blood moon? (No, it’s not a Game of Thrones thing)

The difference between a “supermoon” (right) and an every day full moon.
The difference between a “supermoon” (right) and an every day full moon. Wikimedia Commons/Marco Langbroe

Now, you might say you’ve noticed it. That’s likely because you were observing the moon while it was on the horizon. But that’s merely an illusion.

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Don’t think so? Try this: when you see the moon rising, hold your pinkie nail or a round pill (Aspirin is best) at arms’ length beside the moon. Later, when the moon is high up in the horizon, do the same thing. You won’t notice a difference.

An example of the illusion of a setting (or rising) moon appearing much larger than normal (this was not a “supermoon”). Nicole Mortillaro

The illusion is created because our brains think that the horizon is much farther away from us than the sky above us (we tend to think of the sky as flat). This makes us think the moon on the horizon is massive (it’s the same thing with the sun, but we usually don’t stare at the sun).

There will be three times in 2014 when a full moon appears at its perigee: July 12, August 10 and Sept. 9.

So though it may be hard for you to tell the difference, go out and enjoy the moon. It’s still a wonderful thing.

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