- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 1999

A lot of people expect the moon to “hit your eye like a big pizza pie” tomorrow night.
If not a pizza moon, a lover’s moon. A big one.
That’s been the buzz on the Internet for weeks. But some of our astronomers, for whom the moon is merely another celestial body and not the stuff of romance and wintry kisses, say that’s a lot of bunk. Nobody should expect it to be, as many expect, the first “super moon” in 133 years.
“Yes, the moon will be full,” says astronomer Brian Marsden, “and it happens that it will be at the closest point to Earth, which occurs every year or two. But that doesn’t do anything at all, really. And yes, these things will occur in the same 10-hour interval of the winter solstice. That’s irrelevant.”
Mr. Marsden, associate director for planetary sciences at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., adds: “There is tremendous excitement about these coincidences, and I don’t know why. The fuss is ridiculous.”
Irrelevant and ridiculous or not, a lot of folks expect that the “last full moon of the millennium” will be monstrously big and incredibly bright. That’s because this full moon will be nearer than ever to the Earth, closer than normal to the sun.
Basing their interpretation of the facts on an “Old Farmer’s Almanac” story titled “The Astonishing Lunar Illumination of Dec. 22, 1999,” newspaper accounts have said that if the weather is right and especially if there is snow cover it may be possible to read by moonlight tomorrow night or even drive without using headlights.
Phil Poole, lead U.S. Weather Service forecaster for the D.C. region, says: “The odds are pretty good we’ll see the moon, although we’d like to have a nice, clear night totally clear. Instead, I’m calling it partly cloudy.”
Many moon watchers expect to find the moon 14 percent larger than on Dec. 8, when it was at its apogee that is, farthest from Earth. Since the moon will be nearer than usual to the sun, the sunlight reflected from the moon will appear 7 percent more luminous than in summer.
But some astronomers insist those differences are too slight to be noticed by the naked eye. “Nothing absolutely nothing is going to happen,” says Geoff Chester, public affairs officer for the U.S. Naval Observatory, with just the hint of impatience. “People won’t be able to discern the difference in size or brightness. It’s the difference between a really bright and a really, really bright moon.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Chester adds a caveat for those who will insist on believing their eyes rather than science. “I’ve seen more stories about this in the last couple of weeks than about the start of the new millennium. So I expect a number of people will be out in early evening to look at the moon. They’ll see it as it rises, and it will appear enormous, and people will say what they’ve been hearing is all true. It won’t be true.”
This occurs when watching the rising moon. The viewer sees the whitish disk hanging just above the horizon in relation to a foreground of trees or houses or mountains, whose size is familiar. The viewer perceives the moon as being large by comparison. Later, when the moon dangles overhead and is seen without earthly reference points, it seems much smaller. So it is possible the moon glimpsed in tomorrow’s partly cloudy firmament could seem like an extra large pizza.
Mr. Chester says and Mr. Marsden concurs that there is a phenomenon called the “moon illusion,” an optical effect that can make the moon seem gigantic. Which is, of course, a perfect description of romance in the moonlight.

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