ST. GEORGE — May’s full moon, the last of the full supermoons of 2020, first showed up close to full Tuesday evening, and it will continue through its phases through Friday morning, saving the most spectacular lunar display for Wednesday night into the early morning hours Thursday. The supermoon will be joined by other planetary events worth of watching for this month.
The supermoon, which occurs during the moon’s closest approach to earth, will appear full as it passes through the constellation Libra. The actual “full moon” will technically last only a moment in Southern Utah: Thursday at 4:45 a.m., when the side of the moon facing Earth is fully illuminated. Nestled close by is Venus, Earth’s evening star, which debuted at its brightest last week.
The moon’s orbit around Earth is not a perfect circle but is elliptical, with one side closer to Earth than the other. As a result, the distance between the moon and Earth varies throughout the month and the year. At its closest, it’s about 223,600 miles from the center of the Earth.
For 2020, the four full moons from February through May are all falling within that 90% threshold of proximity to the Earth, making this the last full supermoon of the year.
According to TimeandDate.com and the National Weather Service-Salt Lake City office, the moon is scheduled to rise in Southern Utah between 7:50-7:52 p.m., with mostly clear skies in St. George. In Cedar City, the sky will be partly cloudy, becoming gradually clear.
How full and supermoons got their names
In ancient times, it was common to track the changing seasons by following the lunar month as opposed to the solar year, which is what the modern calendar is based upon.
As such, Native American tribes named the months after features they associated with the Northern Hemisphere seasons. May’s supermoon has been dubbed the “Flower Moon” by the Maine Farmer’s Almanac, which first published “Indian” names for the full moons starting in the 1930s.
The full moon in May was named by the Algonquin tribes of what is now the northeastern United States, according to this almanac. Other names for May’s supermoon include the “Corn Planting Moon” and the “Milk Moon.”
The term “supermoon” is not an official astronomical term but was coined by the astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 and refers to either a new or full moon that occurs at its closest approach to Earth during its monthly orbit around the blue marble. In a typical year there can be three or four full supermoons in a row and just as many new supermoons – when the moon is not visible from the Earth – in a row.
All five of the brightest planets appear in May
May is packed full of planetary visitations, including five of the solar system’s brightest planets that will be visible during the month. Jupiter in its brilliance serves as the guide to Saturn and Mars in the morning sky, leaving the inferior planets, Mercury and Venus, to dominate the evening sky, according to Earthsky.
As spring continues, the daily periods of sunlight continue to lengthen and that rate of change gradually slows as the summer solstice approaches, but on Friday, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will appear in the southeastern sky, with the brightest of the three, Jupiter, appearing in the south-southeast just above the horizon.
The dimmest of the three, Saturn, will appear just to the left of Jupiter, while Mercury will begin emerging from the glow of dusk on the west-northwestern horizon 30 minutes after sunset. By May 16, Mercury will make a nightly appearance above the horizon during evening twilight.
Venus and Mercury will appear nearest to each other on the evening of May 21, with Venus just above Mercury as the pair peak over the horizon. By the beginning of June, Venus will pass between Earth and the sun, leaving the evening sky on June 3, when the planet enters its “new phase” with its sunlit side turned entirely away from Earth.
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