In an extraordinary display of cosmic rivalry, the moon has been the center of attention this August. A thrilling contest between Russia and India for lunar supremacy unfolded, as both nations vied to be the first to land an uncrewed spacecraft in the moon’s south polar region. Russia’s aspirations were shattered on August 20 when an engine burn intended to guide the ship’s descent malfunctioned, leaving the path clear for India. Three days later, India, a relative newcomer in the lunar exploration field, successfully completed its landing, cinching the title for this year’s most notable achievement in moon exploration.
Yet, the moon doesn’t require human intervention to command headlines. As August draws to a close, a rare celestial event is set to captivate photographers, astronomy enthusiasts, and even seasoned stargazers. Tonight, shortly after 8:30 p.m. eastern time, and continuing into the morning of September 1, a “super blue moon” will grace the sky. Despite the somewhat misleading name, there’s nothing blue about the moon’s appearance tonight. The term ‘blue moon’—its origin still a matter of debate—refers to the second full moon in a single month. With the previous full moon having occurred on August 1, tonight’s moon barely qualifies for the ‘blue’ distinction. However, it’s the combination of the ‘blue moon’ with the ‘supermoon’ phenomenon that makes this event truly remarkable.
A Cosmic Spectacle: The Super Blue Moon and The Race to the Moon’s South Pole
This August, the moon has been stealing the spotlight with an intense cosmic race and a rare celestial phenomenon, the "super blue moon".
A Race to the Lunar South Pole
For the larger part of this August, Russia and India were involved in an uncrewed spacecraft competition, each vying to be the first to safely land in the moon’s south polar region. On August 20, Russia’s dream was shattered when the engine burn designed to fine-tune the descent malfunctioned. However, India, a newcomer to lunar exploration, accomplished a successful landing three days later, taking the lead in this year’s lunar exploration achievements.
The Super Blue Moon Phenomenon
On the night of August 30, a rare "super blue moon" graced the skies, captivating photographers, amateur stargazers, and even seasoned astronomers. The term "super blue moon" might be a bit misleading as the moon doesn’t actually appear blue. The label, instead, signifies the second full moon in a single month. The previous full moon was on August 1, making the end-of-the-month full moon a blue one. According to NASA, blue moons are quite rare, accounting for only 3% of all full moons, making this event notable.
The Supermoon Factor
Adding to the intrigue is the "supermoon" aspect. The moon orbits the Earth in an elliptical path rather than a perfect circle, with the closest approach to Earth (perigee) being 357,000 km and the farthest (apogee) being 406,000 km. When the full moon coincides with the perigee, it appears 14% larger and 30% brighter, qualifying it as a supermoon. This effect is particularly striking when the moon is near the horizon, where it appears even larger due to an optical illusion. NASA states that 25% of all full moons are supermoons, with this being the third one of the year and another due on September 29.
The Rare Super Blue Moon
While supermoons are relatively common, a supermoon that’s also a blue moon, like the one seen on August 30, is extremely rare. It can sometimes be 20 years between sightings of super blue moons. The next ones are expected in January and March of 2037.
Catch the Spectacle
These celestial events are not only awe-inspiring, but they are also free to watch. The best viewing time for the recent super blue moon was at 9:36 p.m, in the east-southeastern sky when the moon rose fully above the horizon. The spectacle continued until the morning of September 1, when the moon began its waning phase.
These recent events remind us of the ever-changing beauty and mystery of our celestial neighbor. The race to land on the moon’s south polar region highlights the ongoing interest and expanding capabilities in space exploration. The super blue moon, a rare and beautiful phenomenon, provides a unique opportunity for us to appreciate the wonders of our universe. It serves as a reminder to occasionally look up from our day-to-day lives and take in the extraordinary cosmic performances happening right above us.