Look up and see the brightest moon since 1948

Composite image of the moon
This composite image approximates the look of the Nov. 14, 2016, full moon with data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

There are supermoons — and then there are supermoons that only come around every now and then.

This weekend, we'll get the latter: our closest full moon since 1948, when gas was 16 cents a gallon and Truman defeated Dewey. It won't happen again until 2034.

You'll be able to see it best Sunday night through Monday morning, but the night skies on Saturday and Monday will offer spectacular views of the moon.

What makes a supermoon?

The orbit of the moon around Earth is not quite a circle, and the distance between the two varies from around 225,000 to 250,000 miles.

A supermoon happens when the perigee — the moment at which the moon is closest to Earth — coincides with a full moon.

At its closest point, the moon will still be about 225,000 miles away, but it will be close enough for our eyes to notice the difference. At its peak at 5:22 a.m. Central on Monday morning, the moon will be about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than the smallest full moon.

Supermoon peak: 5:22 a.m. Central, Monday, Nov. 14

NASA will post a collection of images of the supermoon on Flickr.

How much do we really know about the moon?

A new 12 meter impact crater
Temporal ratio image formed from two LROC Narrow Angle Camera images (after image divided by the before image) revealing a new 12 meter (~40 foot) diameter impact crater (Latitude: 36.536dN; Longitude: 12.379dE) formed between 25 October 2012 and 21 April 2013, scene is 1300 meters (~4200 feet) wide. New crater and its continuous ejecta are seen as the small bright area in the center, dark areas are the result of material blasted out of the crater to distances much further than previously thought.
NASA | GSFC | Arizona State University

Even though it is our closest celestial companion, we are still learning about the moon — and, in turn, the rest of the solar system. For the past 7 years the moon has had its own guest in orbit, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite dedicated to studying it.

"Understanding the moon and seeing how it's changed and knowing more about what it's history is like tells us about the history of the solar system," said Alex Young, associate director for science at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "we use the moon as a measure of what is happening everywhere else."

Before scientists understood the moon in that crucial context, it was regarded as as a dead and sterile place, unchanging over time. But, as they observe it, scientists now see the dynamic environment of the moon, with meteoroid strikes and other forces working to change its face, albeit slowly.

And a better understanding of the moon helps us better understand the forces at work on Mars and even Pluto.

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