A "beaver supermoon" is coming this month and the sight of it in the night sky could be as spectacular as its name is silly. There won't actually be any big-tailed rodents involved, but our biggest satellite will become full within hours of reaching its closest point to Earth and, as a result, appear the largest it has for several decades.
Supermoons happen several times a year and the term now generally just refers to a full moon that is closer to Earth than average. In fact, 2016 sees three supermoons in succeeding months: the first was on October 16, the second will appear on November 14, and the last will occur on December 14, which will have the downside of significantly reducing the number of meteors visible in the annual Geminid meteor shower.
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It's the November 14 moon that will appear the largest because it becomes full within roughly two hours of perigee – the point at which it's elliptical orbit brings it closest to the Earth. This point is around 30,000 miles (48,000 km) closer to Earth than the farthest point of the Moon's orbit, (which is known as apogee and is when we get a "micromoon"), so it will appear about 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than when it is at its most distant.
While 14 percent is quite a bit, noticing the difference when the Moon is high in the sky can be difficult due to the lack of any reference points, so your best bet will be to try and get a look as the full moon rises and there are things on the ground to compare it to.
The November 14 supermoon is a lot rarer than your run-of-the-mill supermoon. In fact, it will be closer and therefore larger and brighter in the sky than it's been since January of 1948, and if you miss this one, you'll have to wait until 2034 for a moon this close. Night sky watchers and photographers should definitely take note of the date and check out some of our past tips on photographing a Supermoon to get the best shots.
So what do beavers have to do with the beaver supermoon? According to Slooh Observatory, the Old Farmer's Almanac says the November full moon was named after the animal because, "for both the colonists and the Algonquin tribes, this was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs."
You can get the full scoop on the three final supermoons of 2016, including the beaver supermoon in the below video from NASA. If cloudy skies prevent you from checking it out for yourself on November 14, you can always watch a live broadcast of the event via the Slooh Observatory.