The last supermoon of the year will rise this week with the appearance of what is known as the Sturgeon Full Moon in the night sky.
Full moons occur about once each month when the moon is opposite the sun in space, with Earth in between. At these times, the moon is fully illuminated, and appears as a perfect circle. Technically, the moon only gets full at a specific time, which this month will happen on Thursday, Aug. 11 at 9:36 p.m. ET, or 6:36 p.m. PT, according to NASA.
Despite this, the moon will appear fully illuminated to most observers for around three days centered on this time. Because they are positioned opposite the sun in the sky, full moons rise at sunset and set at dawn, shining all night.
The full moon in August is often referred to as the “Sturgeon moon” – a traditional Native American name referring to the fact that this period of the year was considered the best time to catch sturgeon in the Great Lakes.
August’s full moon is also considered a “supermoon” — the fourth and last of 2022, in fact. This is a non-scientific term popularly used to describe a full moon that is near perigee – the point in its orbit when it is closest to Earth.
The reason we have supermoons is that the moon’s orbit around Earth is actually elliptical, or oval-shaped, rather than perfectly circular, meaning that the distance between the two bodies varies over time.
There is no strict definition of a supermoon, but the term is usually used to describe any full moon that occurs when it is within 90 percent of its minimum distance from Earth.
According to astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project, perhaps the best time to see the full moon is when it is rising or setting.
“During twilight, the remaining sunlight scattered around by the atmosphere allows us to admire nature, while the full moon rises or sets,” Masi previously said Newsweek.
“Furthermore, when the moon rises and sets, the moon appears behind monuments and elements of the landscape, creating the feeling that the disc is larger than usual. But this is only an optical illusion resulting from the presence of the terrestrial elements in the line of sight which our brain uses for comparison.”
Full moons always rise in the east and set in the west. So if you want to observe the moon as it rises, you’ll want to find a spot with an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon.
For observers in New York, the moon will rise around 8:18 p.m. on August 11. As a result, stargazers in this location will be able to see the moon at the exact moment it becomes full.
For observers in Los Angeles, meanwhile, moonrise will occur at 8:04 PM PT on August 11, so the moon will still be below the horizon at the exact moment it becomes full. However, viewers at this location will still be able to enjoy the fully illuminated moon shining throughout this evening, just like in New York.
(You can use this handy calculator to work out when the Moon will rise over your position on August 11.)