On Thursday, May 7, the last supermoon of 2020 will occur, so don't forget to look up (although you probably won't be able to miss it). May's "Flower" Moon, the last of this year's four supermoons, will appear full for about three days, from Tuesday night to Friday morning.
The Moon will reach its fullness in the early hours of Thursday morning, 6.45 am EST, but it will be bright and shiny all night long. You can check the precise time for your location on the Time and Date website.
The Moon orbits Earth not on a circular path, but on an elliptical one. At its closest point (perigee), the Moon is 356,400 kilometers (221,500 miles) from us, and when that happens during a full Moon, we have what is now called a "supermoon".
During a supermoon, our natural satellite is closer to Earth than the average distance between us and the Moon, which is why the Moon looks so huge in the sky. Our satellite can get up to 30 percent brighter and appear 14 percent larger making it an interesting night-sky spectacle. The term, however, has no astronomical meaning and is generally considered to be whenever a new or full Moon is within 90 percent of perigee.
While terms for Moons seem to be getting more and more fanciful – Super Blood Wolf Moon, anyone? – they do grab people's attention and perhaps make them more interested in space. Although the full Moon is not just about space. Lunar cycles are key to human cultures globally, and are often named for the event or flora and fauna that occur in that month, which helped ancient or rural people mark the time of year. In the US, following the Maine Farmer's Almanac of the 1930s, this May's full Moon is commonly referred to as the Flower Moon. Given we are in the middle of spring, you can guess why.
The name in the almanac takes inspiration from the traditional name that the Native American Algonquin tribes gave to the May Moon, with other names including the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon. Across Asia, the full Moon of May is also known as the Vesak Festival Moon as it corresponds with Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima, a Buddhist holiday that marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha.
In a calendar year, there are 12 or 13 possible full Moons and three or four might be supermoons. Make the most of this one, as the next one isn't going to be until next year, on May 26, 2021.