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Look up! First 'supermoon' of the summer rises Saturday night

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Supermoon! The moon will appear especially big, and especially bright on Saturday night.

Get ready moon gazers! There's a supermoon rising Saturday night and you don't want to miss it.

This supermoon is especially cool because it is the first of three consecutive extra-big, extra-bright full moons. The second one will happen on Aug. 10; the third on Sept. 9.

If that makes you feel as though supermoons are pretty run of the mill, you are partially right. According to Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory, supermoons occur, on average, once every 13 months and 18 days.

Still, even according to his math, three in a row is a pretty big deal.

Supermoons, which are also called "perigee moons," take place when the moon turns full at the same time it is closest to us in its orbit around the Earth. 

The moon is not always the same distance from us because it moves around our planet in an elliptical shape, rather than a perfect circle.

The point on its orbit that is closest to us is called perigee. The point when it is furthest from us is called apogee. 

When the moon is at perigee, it is about 31,000 miles closer to us than it is when it is at apogee.

On Saturday night, and on Sept. 9, the moon will become full on the same day it reaches perigee. On Aug. 10 the moon will become full within the same hour that it reaches perigee.

A full moon at perigee will appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons during the year. That sounds impressive, but it's hard to say if it's a truly noticeable difference from our perspective on Earth.

"I guarantee that some folks will think it's the biggest moon they've ever seen if they catch it rising over a distant horizon, because the media will have told them to pay attention to this particular one," Chester told NASA's ScienceCast.

Chester, and other astronomers, are not super-enamored with the term supermoon. They worry that the phrase hypes a rather mundane and common phenomenon and will lead to public misinformation.

But don't let them get you down. A full moon is a beautiful thing, and knowing that the moon will be a bit brighter, and a bit bigger Saturday night, is just another excuse to marvel at its awesomeness.

Happy moon watching!

If you love staring at the night sky, even from a smoggy city like LA, follow me on Twitter for more stories like this. @DeborahNetburn

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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