Home > Space, Things I Like..., Travels > The Super Moon & The Mamalluca Observatory, Chile

The Super Moon & The Mamalluca Observatory, Chile

Last Saturday evening, me and A were standing on the river bank at 6.24pm, looking due east, shivering slightly and waiting for…. The Super Moon.

A Super Moon occurs when a full moon coincides with it being at its closet to the Earth. The Moon orbits the Earth in a slightly elliptical orbit, at its closet (known as the perigree) it is about 220,000 miles away, stretching to about 254,000 miles when the Moon is at its furthest (the apogee). A perigree Moon is about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than an apogee Moon.

This weekend the moon was the closest it’s been for 18 years and its overly large appearance was boosted by another phenomena known as the Moon Illusion. This effect occurs when the evening sky is very clear and, as the Moon rises up over the horizon, it is seen against familiar objects such as buildings and trees, making  it appear relatively much larger than it is.

In the weekend papers and online, I’d also been reading about Moonageddon… a series of conspiracy theories linking the disastrous earthquakes and Tsunamis in Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand and Japan to the Super Moon and its actions on our tides and gravity…. some interesting ideas, but ultimately misguided by all scientific accounts.

Annoyingly, as we ran out to make sure we didn’t miss the spectacle, I forgot to take the tripod, so my photos are a bit shaky. Still it was a pretty impressive sight, watching a huge Moon rising up over the Thames..

Seeing the moon this clearly reminded me of when we were in Northern Chile at the end of 2009. We went on an amazing trip to the Mamalluca Observatory high up in the Andes near Vicuna, and for about 3 hours looked up at an almost impossibly clear sky.

For me, it was one of the standout experiences of our entire trip, watching, over the time we were there, whole constellations of stars climbing up from behind the surrounding mountains into the perfect night sky. It’s the only time I’ve ever been aware of the Earth actually moving through space in realtime. Made my head spin…

Our guide was a young Chilean guy whose knowledge of the Cosmos was unbelievable. He showed us an untold number of stars, Jupiter and its moons, the Magellan clouds (which are the galaxies beyond our own) satellites (small bright specs moving slowly through the starfield) shooting stars (small bright specs moving very quickly through the starfield) and of course the Moon. The photo to the left is one I took with my camera through the 12″ telescope at the observatory, and does not do the experience of seeing the Moon as big as a beach ball, any justice whatsoever (but it’s the only image we have of that night, stars don’t photograph well with a pocket digital camera….)

  1. March 22, 2013 at 22:48

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