Did you get caught up in the excitement about the blood wolf supermoon in January? If you missed it, don’t worry, there’s another supermoon about to happen and lots more to look out for too. Here’s our guide to moon-watching, with some moon facts, moon myths, and moon dates for your diary in 2019.
The moon has been hitting the headlines lately, with some great photo opportunities of supermoons, lunar eclipses and nearby planets, so we thought we’d take a closer look at this ever-present but mysterious celestial body.
What is a supermoon?
The moon is about 27% of the size of earth. It’s our only natural satellite, it is 238,857 miles away and it orbits the earth every 27.3 days. A supermoon is just that same moon, a tiny bit closer than it normally is. But if the night is clear, it looks amazing. The last supermoon in January coincided with a lunar eclipse, which lent it a red shadow – hence the ‘blood’ moon description.
The moon orbits the earth in a slightly off-centre path, so that it comes closer to the earth on one side than it does on the other. When this closeness coincides with a full moon, it’s commonly called a supermoon. In scientific terms it’s called a perigee syzygy, but you can save that one for the pub quiz. The supermoon appears to be around 13% bigger and 30% brighter than usual, and this is what makes for the stunning photographs we see.
When are the 2019 supermoons?
This supermoon is on Tuesday 19 February and the only other one this year is next month, on 21 March. Other moon events to look out for this year are the blue moon on 18 May, also called the Flower Moon, a partial lunar eclipse on 16 July, and Venus close to the crescent moon on 2 March, 1 April, 28 November, and 28 December.
Make the most of these lunar highlights by booking a cabin in the forest for a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. As well as being far from the city lights, our locations are carefully managed to keep light pollution to a minimum, which means that the night skies are a revelation. The best locations to consider for a clear view of the sky are Thorpe Forest, Forest of Dean, or Cropton, where we have open meadow settings, or Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre, which both have open views out above the lochs.
Fun facts about the moon
• The full moon each month was given a name by our farming ancestors, linked to nature. That’s where the "wolf" part of the January’s supermoon comes in. This month’s supermoon is called a Lenten Moon and next month’s is the Egg Moon. Have a look at our 2019 Stargazing Calendar to find out the other names.
• You will never see the far side of the moon unless you become an astronaut. This is because the moon revolves on its axis in the same amount of time it orbits the earth, so it always shows us the same face. If this is hard to get your head round, here’s a great video we found on YouTube.
• The moon is not spherical; it is egg-shaped.
• Our tides are caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity, which is higher for a supermoon because the moon is closer. Head for the River Severn if you are staying at Forest of Dean for the March supermoon. The Severn Bore, a wave that travels up the estuary, promises to be spectacular.
• Every year the moon moves another 4cm away from us, using some of our energy to propel itself. This is gradually slowing the earth’s revolutions down, so that in billions of years’ time our days will be a month long.
Moon myths and superstitions
• Moon madness has been a superstition for centuries, linking the full moon to all sorts of strange behaviour. A study in Canada tested the theory, following hospital admissions, including those with a psychological aspect. Unsurprisingly, it showed no link to the full moon.
• Werewolves, humans who shape shift into wolves on a full moon, are part of folklore superstition across northern Europe. They are not real, of course, but werewolf trials featured alongside the witch hunts of the seventeenth century. Another one for your pub quiz, lycanthropy is the word for transformation into a wolf.
• The man in the moon, in some cultures a rabbit, is actually the scarring caused by a massive asteroid crashing into the moon billions of years ago. The right eye is a crater called Mare Imbrium, or "Sea of Showers" which was caused by the impact.
• The moon is made of green cheese. And if you believe that you’ll believe anything. It’s an old saying based on the story of a simpleton, who sees the moon’s reflection in a pond and thinks it is a wheel of cheese.
• The Polish have a story of Pan Twardowski, who lives on the moon. He sold his soul to the devil for magical powers, with a clause that the devil could only take his soul if he was in Rome, where he never intended to go. He did, however, stop off at an inn called Rome, where the devil caught up with him. But the devil dropped him half way to hell and he landed on the moon. He lives there still, with a pet spider whom he sometimes lets down to earth on a thread to find out news from his old home.
Moongazing and stargazing are incredible when light pollution is low. Find out more about stargazing in the forest and check out our Stargazing for Beginners Guide. Book a Forest Holidays break this year for the best stargazing experience imaginable. You might even spot Pan Twardowski!