For observers on the east coast of North and South America, the moon will be below the horizon at the moment of the full moon, June 24 at 2:40 p.m. EDT (1840 GMT), according to astropixels.com. That evening, the moon rises at 8:53 p.m. local time in New York City, 8:33 p.m. in Miami, and 5:13 p.m. in Rio de Janeiro, according to timeanddate.com.
Meanwhile, the moon is at perigee, the point in its orbit closest to Earth, at 5:54 a.m. EDT (0954 GMT) on June 23, according to sky-watching site In-the-Sky.org. At perigee the moon appears just slightly larger than average, by about 10%, earning it the moniker of “supermoon,” although the term is not used by astronomers.
On average, the angular diameter of the moon is about 31 arcminutes — a bit more than half of one degree. (One degree is about the size of a pinky finger held at arm’s length, and an arcminute is 1/60th of that). The “supermoon” is about 33.5 arcminutes. It takes a very observant skywatcher to tell the difference.
The moon appears larger because its orbit is an ellipse rather than a perfect circle. At perigee the moon will be 223,666 miles (359,956 kilometers) from Earth, according to heavens-above.com calculations. On average, the moon is 240,000 miles (384,400 km) from Earth.
The full moon occurs when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, usually illuminating the moon. Occasionally the moon’s orbit carries it within the shadow of the Earth, producing an eclipse, but that isn’t happening this time. The next lunar eclipse is due in November, when a partial lunar eclipse will be visible over North and South America, Australia and parts of Europe and Asia.
The full moon in summer (Northern Hemisphere summer, that is) tends to be lower in the sky than at other times of year, because the moon roughly tracks the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit projected on the sky. If one imagines the sky as a huge sphere, with Earth’s latitude and longitude lines projected on it, the ecliptic makes a circle that’s tilted with respect to the celestial equator. The ecliptic also happens to mark the path of the sun against the background stars.
In summer, the sun is on the ecliptic high above the celestial equator, so the day starts early and ends late. The moon is on the opposite side and so well below the celestial equator. Thus the moon rises late in the evening and sets early in the morning.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the situation is reversed. Since winter there has just begun, the sun is low in the sky and the moon is higher up. So if you are watching the full moon in Melbourne, you will see it June 25 at 4:39 a.m. local time, and it will rise the evening at 5:29 p.m. and set the next morning (June 26) at 9:00 a.m. local time. It will be 77 degrees above the horizon when it reaches its highest point, right above the northern horizon known as crossing the meridian, which happens at 1:15 a.m. on June 26.
For comparison, in New York City, the moon crosses the meridian at 1:26 a.m. June 25 and is only about 24 degrees above the southern horizon.
On June 24, the planet Venus will be setting at 10:02 p.m. local time as seen from New York City, about an hour and a half after sunset (8:31 p.m.). At 9 p.m. it is only about 10 degrees above the northwestern horizon, though, so it is challenging to spot — the sky will still have some light. That said, Venus’ brightness means it is often one of the first “stars” to appear.
Mars, meanwhile, is in the constellation Cancer, and not much higher in altitude than Venus — it is 17 degrees above the horizon at 9 p.m. local time in New York and a little harder to spot, though observers can catch it as the sky darkens and the planet sinks below the horizon.
Jupiter and Saturn, meanwhile, rise much later — at about 11:40 p.m. and 10:46 p.m. local time, respectively in New York, and the local timing will be similar in any mid-northern latitude location. Jupiter is in Aquarius and Saturn is in Capricorn, and by 3:00 a.m. they are both about 30 degrees above the southern horizon.
Mercury, meanwhile, rises at 4:36 a.m. local time in New York on the morning of June 25. Sunrise is just an hour later and Mercury will only be about 4 degrees above the horizon by 5 a.m., when the sky will already be getting light. Mercury is much easier to catch in the Southern Hemisphere — a resident of Melbourne can see the planet rise at 6:05 a.m. local time on June 26 and it will reach a full 14 degrees above the horizon by 7:30 a.m. — a full hour and a half before the sun comes up.
The Summer Triangle is on full view by 9 p.m. local time in the evenings in mid-northern latitudes. By 10 p.m., Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, will be 50 degrees high in the east and below it will be Deneb and Altair, with Deneb on the left. The three stars form a right triangle that always points south, with Altair marking the southern end.
Scorpio, meanwhile, is above the horizon in the east, and above Scorpio is Ophiuchus, the legendary healer. Ophiuchus is a relatively faint constellation, but looking up from Scorpio in a dark-sky location, one can see the four stars that make a rectangle marking the body, and the stars to each side that mark the constellations Serpens Cauda and Serpens Caput, the head and tail of the snake Ophiuchus, as a healer, is holding.
By 10 p.m. local time the Big Dipper is in the northwest, facing downward, and one can follow the handle to Arcturus, which is in the high southwestern sky. If one keeps going one reaches Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.
Looking to the left of Arcturus, one can spot a bright semicircle of stars that is Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown.
How the Strawberry Moon got its name
The full moon of June is often called a Strawberry Moon, from the berries that appear in North America around that time of year (though modern varieties are available at other times as well). According to the Ontario Native Literacy Coalition, the Ojibwe treated the Strawberry Moon (Ode’miin Giizis) as a time for annual feasts, welcoming friends and family, and letting go of judgement.
By contrast the Cree called it Opiniyawiwipisim, the Egg Laying Moon, as it was when birds and waterfowl started laying eggs. In the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, June 24 will fall during the fifth lunar month, called Sweet Sedge Month, or Púyuè.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Māori described the lunar month of Hongonui, which occurs from June to July: “Man is now extremely cold and kindles fires,” according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
Editor’s note: If you have an amazing night sky photo or video that you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact editor in chief Tariq Malik at [email protected].
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