Sunday Science: August Supermoon - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: August Supermoon

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Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: "Good morning, we're speaking with NASA scientist Noah Petro out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Thanks for joining us this morning. And we're talking about the supermoon. So briefly, how is the supermoon different from a regular full moon?"

Petro: "So the supermoon is this wonderful treat where we have this bright, full moon. It's the closest full moon of the calendar year. So it's going to appear larger and brighter than other full moons over the course of the year. Because the moon's orbit around the earth is not a perfect circle, it goes at its furthest away at the apogee or closer when it's at perigee, the moon changes in apparent size over the course of the year. And so what we see over the weekend is we're going to have this super full moon, this supermoon, where it's 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than the smallest full moon of the year, and so it should be a real treat."

Reporter: "And so this seems like a phenomenon we've heard about more and more recently. Why is that?"

Petro: "Yeah, it's been an interesting thing over the last several years that the supermoon has gained some public interest. And especially even more recently this year where there's claims of three supermoons -- the full moon before and after this one being supermoons. There really is only one supermoon, the one time of year when it's closest and fullest. That's this weekend. I like to think that it's because people are getting more interested in the moon, and so we use the opportunity to talk about the moon when there is this wonderful supermoon.

Reporter: "And so when can people see this one best?"

Petro: "Well the best time to see this supermoon is anytime over the weekend after sunset when the full moon is rising in the eastern horizon. Find a spot that's got a clear view -- top of a mountain, hillside somewhere. Or of course anytime at night when the moon is in the sky as well is a great time. But I would suggest anytime if it's clear, go out anytime this weekend."

Reporter: "So from a scientist's perspective, what does having the moon that close mean for you?"

Petro: "Well I love the moon and I love studying the moon. And having the moon just be physically closer is nice. Of course having the moon appear brighter and bigger in the sky is nice. I like to go out and look at it. Of course, we're very close to the moon with our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter craft, which is orbiting the moon just tens of kilometers over its surface, returning some of the most spectacular data of any planet in our solar system. High-resolution topography, wonderful images and maps of craters, some of the most spectacular vistas we see in our solar system, including this central peak of the crater Tycho, with a beautiful large boulder sitting on the top. That boulder is the size of a stadium. I know many of your viewers probably like to ski -- I would love to try to ski down that central peak right there at some point. But the moon is just this wonderful thing -- having it be physically close makes me happy, but anytime the moon is in the sky, it brings me some joy."

Reporter: "And so what is our biggest unanswered question about the moon so far?"

Petro: "We have a lot of unanswered questions. I think the biggest question and the one people are most interested in is how did the moon form? How did it evolve early in its history? The moon is this wonderful witness plate of solar system evolution going back 4.5 billion years ago. The violent birth of the solar system. We'd like to know how the moon actually formed into its current state -- how old is the moon, and what its early history was like. And we're able to do that by studying the moon, but we still have lots of questions about what was happening in that earliest stage in solar system history 4.5 billion years ago."

Reporter: "And of course we'll enjoy the sights this weekend. Noah Petro with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, thank you so much for joining us this morning."

Petro: "Thank you very much for having me."

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