Big moon rising

03/18/2011 1:15 AM

03/18/2011 1:29 AM

The biggest moon in years rises over Charleston Harbor at sunset tonight and Saturday — so bright its reflection will dazzle. How big is that?

“Ask an astronomer and they say, ‘Half a degree, 180th of a right angle’ (the same as any other full moon),” said Terry Richardson, College of Charleston senior astronomy instructor, chuckling. “This will be a big half a degree.”

But it’s going to seem monstrous. The full moon will be at perigee on Saturday, the point in its orbit closest to earth. NASA’s website said the phenomenon is a super perigee moon, the biggest in almost 20 years. It will rival the winter solstice perigee moon that loomed over the Lowcountry in 1999, which occurred when the moon was its closest to both the earth and sun.

That one was championed as the biggest in a century.

The college will open its observatory and telescope to the public for the event. The opening, though, takes place tonight, while there’s still enough earth shadow on the moon to show the lunar scape. The event is unusual enough that Richardson has been taking comparison photographs all month as the closing moon seemed to grow; his class will use the photos to calculate the moon’s orbit.

Seen from the Charleston peninsula, the moon will rise over the Cooper River.

“Since we have a moon that rises right over the harbor it should be really nice,” said George Larson, of Goose Creek, a longtime astronomy hobbyist who edits Business and Commercial Aviation magazine. “It’s just rare enough that it’s kind of like an eclipse. It makes it enticing for people to run out and take photographs.”

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