For the first and only time in 2017, a visible supermoon will illuminate the sky starting Sunday night.
The supermoon will seem 7 percent bigger and 16 percent brighter to the naked eye, wrote Gordon Johnston, a program executive with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft system. The moon will appear largest overnight after 12:45 a.m. ET, but those who might not be up to view it overnight can also take a look from sunset Sunday until sunrise Monday.
This lunar event looks like it’ll take a backseat compared to more hyped-up lunar events that occurred in the last year, like the supermoon in November 2016 and the total solar eclipse in August. Unlike the eclipse, however, this lunar event is safe to view with the naked eye and doesn’t require special glasses or eye protection.
Last year’s supermoon was the closest the moon has gotten to Earth’s orbit since 1948, NASA says, and it won’t get that close again until 2034.
Noah Petro, deputy scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, explained why this supermoon is so close to Earth — the moon’s orbit isn’t a perfect circle.
“There are a lot of tidal, or gravitational, forces that are pulling on the moon,” Petro told Space.com, adding that the gravity of the Earth, the sun and the other planets of the solar system all affect the moon’s orbit. “You have all of these different gravitational forces pulling and pushing on the moon, which gives us opportunities to have these close passes.
Some people weren’t impressed with this phenomenon, like astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson, who took to Twitter to explain its ordinariness. “If last month’s Full Moon were a 16.0 inch pizza, then this month’s ‘Super’ Moon would be 16.1 inches. I’m just saying,” one of his tweets read.
Maria Byrd, a tourist visiting Rockefeller Center, also seemed unaffected by the hype.
“I really don’t know anything about it, except for I heard that it was yesterday, Byrd told NBC News. “It looks better. I got a glimpse of it on somebody’s Facebook picture. It looked big.”
She said the supermoon doesn’t interest her because “I guess I just don’t know enough about it.”
On the other hand, Deborah Cyr, 64, thought the supermoon was “stunning.” She and a friend visiting New York from New Hampshire saw it on an open-bus tour. “It’s one of those phenomenas of nature that you kind of embrace and enjoy and don’t know when you’ll see again,” she said.
Three other supermoons graced the skies in 2017, but this one is the only one discernible with the naked eyes, National Geographic reported. It’s part of a succession of three supermoons set to occur into 2018; the others are projected to occur Jan. 2 and Jan. 31, according to NASA.