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'Supermoon,' Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower To Attract Skywatchers On May 5, 2012

Posted: 05/03/2012 8:42 am Updated: 05/04/2012 2:51 pm

Be sure to tweet us your supermoon pics at @HuffPostScience, hashtag #supermoon! We'll be collecting user submissions from all over, and yours may be featured.

By: Tariq Malik
Published: 05/02/2012 04:11 PM EDT on SPACE.com

The biggest full moon of the year, a so-called "supermoon," will take center stage when it rises this weekend, and may interfere with the peak of an annual meteor shower created by the leftovers from Halley's comet.

The supermoon of 2012 is the biggest full moon of the yearand will occur on Saturday (May 5) at 11:35 p.m. EDT (0335 May 6), though the moon may still appear full to skywatchers on the day before and after the actual event. At the same time, the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower will be hitting its peak, NASA scientists say.

"Its light will wash out the fainter Eta Aquarid meteors," NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center told SPACE.com in an email. Still, Cooke said there's a chance that the brightest fireballs from the meteor display may still be visible.

A supermoon occurs when the moon hits its full phase at the same time it makes closest approach to Earth for the month, a lunar milestone known as perigee. Scientists also refer to the event as a "perigee moon," according to a NASA video on the 2012 supermoon.

That's exactly what will happen on Saturday, when the moon will swing within 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) of Earth — its closest approach of the entire year. Because the moon's orbit is not exactly circular, there is a 3-percent variation in its closest approaches to Earth each month. The average Earth-moon distance is about 230,000 miles (384,400 km).

With May's full moon timed with the moon's perigee, it could appear 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than other full moons of 2012, astronomer Tony Phillips explained in a NASA video. There is absolutely no chance the supermoon will threaten Earth.

The last supermoon was in March 2011. At the time, it was the biggest and brightest full moon in 18 years. [Amazing Supermoon Photos from 2011]

While the moon's extra brightness during the supermoon may wash out some of the fainter Eta Aquarid meteors, all is not lost, Cooke said.

"Our fireball cameras have already detected four bright ones. So I would say that the odds are pretty good that folks can see a bit of Halley's Comet over the next few days, if they care to take the time to look," Cooke explained. "They will be the big and bright ones, fewer in number with a rate of just a few per hour, but they will be there."

Cooke anticipates that the 2012 Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak at up to 60 meteors per hour on May 5.

The eta Aquarid display is one of two meteor showers created by dust from Halley's comet (the Orionid shower in October is the other). It occurs every April and May when the Earth passes through a stream of debris cast off by comet Halley during its 76-year trip around the sun.

The eta Aquarid meteor shower of 2012 actually began on April 19 and ends on May 28, but its peak is in the overnight period between Saturday and Sunday (May 5 and 6).

"Meteor watchers in the Southern Hemisphere stand the best chance of seeing any meteors," a NASA advisory from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained.

If you snap an amazing photo of the supermoon of May or the Eta Aquarid meteor shower and would like to share it with SPACE.com for a story or gallery, send photos and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at: tmalik@space.com.

You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • A perigee moon rises above the Almudena

    A perigee moon rises above the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid on March 19, 2011. A perigee moon is visible when the moon's orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. AFP PHOTOAFP PHOTO/ Pedro ARMESTRE (Photo credit should read PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Biggest Moon In Almost 20 Years Rises In DC

    WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: In this handout photo provided by NASA, the full moon is seen as it rises near the Lincoln Memorial, March 19, 201, in Washington, DC. The full moon tonight is called a 'Super Perigee Moon' since it is at it's closest to Earth in 2011. The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

  • A perigee moon rises next to the Nationa

    A perigee moon rises next to the National Monument and the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 19, 2011. A perigee moon is visible when the moon's orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A perigee moon rises in Washington, DC,

    A perigee moon rises in Washington, DC, on March 19, 2011. A perigee moon is visible when the moon's orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The full moon rises behind the statue of

    The full moon rises behind the statue of Mahathma Gandhi in Hyderabad on March 19, 2011. Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon's orbit. According to US Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. 'The full Moon of March 19 occurs less than one hour away from perigeea near-perfect coincidence that happens only 18 years or so'. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The full moon is seen behind a bronze st

    The full moon is seen behind a bronze statue standing on the left bank of Vltava river on Mala Strana Prague's quarter early on March 20, 2011. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK (Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The full moon rises over rooftops March

    The full moon rises over rooftops March 19, 2011 in this view from the east side of Manhattan in New York. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO / Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A March 20, 2011 photo taken at approxim

    A March 20, 2011 photo taken at approximately 0457 GMT shows the moon seen from Chevy Chase, Maryland. The moon is in its closest orbit to Earth, at 356,577 Kms away, the closest in 18 years. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The statue of freedom, ontop of the US C

    The statue of freedom, ontop of the US Capitol Hill is pictured against a perigee moon as it rises in Washington, DC, on March 19, 2011. A perigee moon is visible when the moon's orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A perigee moon rises in Washington, DC,

    A perigee moon rises in Washington, DC, on March 19, 2011. A perigee moon is visible when the moon's orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The full moon rises March 19, 2011 in th

    The full moon rises March 19, 2011 in this view from the east side of Manhattan in New York. The full moon coincided with its closest approach to the Earth, 221,565 miles (356,575 km), making the so-called 'super moon' look slightly larger than average. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

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    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/KillerNeuron"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://i.huffpost.com/profiles/1374500-tiny.png?20101229005527" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/KillerNeuron">KillerNeuron</a>:<br />The moon as seen from Ft. Hood, Texas, approximately 2 hours after moonrise.

  • Supermoon above San Sebastian

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    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/doodlewhale"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/1537564.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/doodlewhale">doodlewhale</a>:<br />

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  • Illumination

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  • Our bright and loyal friend

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  • PLANE OVER MOON

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  • super moon from western North Carolina 03/19/11

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  • Texas Supermoon

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