There’s nothing more exciting to us lunar-lovers than watching a supermoon rise into the night sky. Tonight, June 13th, we can expect a supermoon to arrive, but — we won’t be able to see it. And although that fact leaves us a little disappointed, we have to admit an invisible supermoon is pretty cool, too. So what does tonight’s invisible supermoon — the first of three summer new moon supermoons — mean for us earthlings? Get your astronomer cap on and let’s dive in.
Tonight, the moon is in its new phase, and therefore appears dark in the night sky. This is because the moon is currently centered between the sun and Earth in its orbit. Its lit side faces the sun, while its dark side faces the Earth, hence its “invisibility.” It’s common to see a small crescent sliver during the new phase because it’s rare that the moon and sun are directly aligned — a phenomenon that causes an eclipse. But for the most part, the moon is mostly hidden during its new phase.
According to EarthSky.org, the term “supermoon” was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979. Nolle describes a supermoon as “a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near…its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.” So, as EarthSky.org states, any new or full moon that comes within 224,000 miles of Earth is considered a supermoon.
We don’t often hear about new moon supermoons, and that’s probably because we rarely physically see them. But really, new moon supermoons are just as, if not more, common than full moon supermoons. You can check out Nolle’s 21st Century Supermoon Alignments chart to see just how many new moon supermoons we’ve already experienced this century and will experience in the future.
Tonight’s June 13th new moon supermoon is the first of three supermoons in a row. The next two will fall on July 13th and August 11th, with July’s being the closest to Earth.
And although we won’t be able to see tonight’s new moon supermoon, we’ll certainly be able to see its effects. Following new and full moon supermoons, both high and low tides will become more extreme because the moon is closer to Eearth and therefore its gravitational pull on the ocean is stronger.
The next time we’ll actually be able to see a supermoon (meaning the moon will be close to Earth while in its full phase) will be on January 21st, 2019, according to Nolle’s chart. Until then, we’ll just have to enjoy the effects of what we can’t actually see.