On November 14th, get ready for the biggest moon of your life, at least for those of you under the age of 70. According to astronomers, this year’s November Supermoon – known as the Frost Moon by North American Indigenous peoples – will be the closest full moon to the Earth since 1948.
The term Supermoon describes either a new or full moon which occurs at that point of the moon’s orbit when it is closest to the Earth. (Within 90 per cent of its perigee or closest point, to be exact.) Originally created in 1979 by astrologer Richard Nolle, the idea of the Supermoon only later gained currency within astronomical circles.
The moon’s effect on oceans’ tides is slightly increased during Supermoon appearances, but the big event is typically the striking visual image of the super-large orb in the sky. “It will appear about seven per cent larger than normal, and will appear at its largest as it sets on the morning of Nov. 14,” says amateur astronomer Glenn Roberts, writing in the PEI Guardian. “It is full only two and a half hours after its closest approach (perigee) to Earth,” says Roberts.
The moon is about to gain a lot more attention in upcoming years, with a handful of countries and private companies having announced plans to visit Earth’s moon. China’s ambitious space program includes the further development of its space station capabilities, plans for a mission to Mars and a moon program. “Our long-term goal is to explore, land and settle [on the moon],” says Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s moon and Mars missions. “We want a manned lunar landing to star for longer periods and establish a research base.” India and Japan have also announced proposed missions to the moon.
And with its current missions to Mars and the asteroid Bennu, NASA would seem to have its hands full. Nevertheless, the United States space agency has now indicated some interest in returning to the moon, through a request for information from companies in the United States on their capacity to develop robotic lunar landing vehicles. According to the statement, NASA aims to fill “strategic knowledge gaps” and is thus “seeking information on the availability of small payloads that could be delivered to the Moon as early as the 2017-2020 time frame using U.S. commercial lunar cargo transportation service providers.”
The information request is seen to coincide with recent moves in the private sector towards lunar exploration and possible mining, specifically in connection with the Google Lunar X Prize, announced in 2007 and now gaining momentum with the 2017 deadline fast approaching. Three companies are seen to be in the running, including Moon Express from the United States, Synergy Moon (an international group) and SpaceIL from Israel, all of which have reportedly secured launch contracts for the upcoming year. The Lunar X competition, dubbed Moon 2.0, has a $20 million (USD) prize for the first team to land a robot on the moon, successfully travel half a kilometre and then transmit images and video of the trip back to Earth. All in the name of “challenging and inspiring engineers and innovators from around the world,” reads the competition profile.