Skywatchers: Moon only a bit brighter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Tonight’s full moon will be larger and brighter than usual, with clear skies for viewing, and since today is the winter solstice — the longest day of the year — you’ll have longer to enjoy it.

But skywatchers agree: Contrary to a chain letter being sent via E-mail and based on an article in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, tonight’s moon will not be &uot;the biggest, brightest moon of the millennium.&uot;

The full moon will be within hours of the moon’s perigee, or closest point to the Earth, and 10 days from the Earth’s perihelion, or closest point to the sun.

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That will make the moon appear a tiny bit bigger and a little brighter than usual, but not enough to be very significant, said Dick Knapp, director of the Davis Planetarium in Jackson.

&uot;It’s not going to be a profound difference,&uot;&160;Knapp said. &uot;In fact, I’m interested to see if someone like myself is going to be able to tell a difference.&uot;

&uot;It will be a nice, bright moon assuming the weather is clear, but that is about it,&uot;&160;said William Hughes, professor and ex-chair of physics and astronomy at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Knapp said he is not sure whether this moon will be the brightest in 130 years, as some E-mails have stated.

&uot;I&160;never really thought about this sequence of events before,&uot;&160;he said, adding that he has gotten 12 inquiries this week about tonight’s moon.

The full moon, lunar perigee and winter solstice will coincide within 10 hours of each other – the shortest time period in the last 150 years. But the moon was actually closer to the Earth in 1930 than today and will be closer again in the year 2056, according to the Internet page of Sky & Telescope magazine.

What excites Hughes is that the moon will eclipse, or &uot;occult,&uot; a couple of stars in the sky tonight and on Christmas Eve, and Jupiter and Saturn will be especially bright.

&uot;The best time to see them will be just after dusk,&uot;&160;Hughes said. &uot;They will be resplendent.&uot;