How to Take Advantage of the Black Supermoon for Optimal Stargazing

If stargazing is on your summer agenda, then dust off your telescope: thanks to black supermoons, the next two weekends will be ideal. Here’s what that means and how to make the most of these extra-dark nights.

What is a black supermoon?

Each lunar cycle has a new moon—the point at which the sun and moon are aligned, so that the sun and Earth on opposite sides of the moon. There’s typically one new moon every month, but sometimes our modern calendar doesn’t totally synch up with the lunar cycle, so sometimes, one month can have two new moons. When that happens, the second new moon of the month is called a “black moon.” According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “black moon” isn’t an official astrological term, isn’t particularly well-known, and doesn’t come with folklore traditions associated with other colorful moons, like blue moons or blood moons.

The upcoming black moon is also technically a supermoon, Travel and Leisure reports, because the moon will be near the closest point to Earth while it orbits the planet:

“That happens every month, so in theory there’s a “supermoon” once per month. This month, the moon comes closest to Earth while also being a New Moon. Since a New Moon is almost directly between Earth and the Sun, only the far side of the Moon is illuminated, so nothing is visible from Earth. This kind of “supermoon” is one you cannot see.”

What happens during a black supermoon?

Like other new moons, black supermoons will basically be invisible to the naked eye, because, as the Farmer’s Almanac says, “the moon is not illuminated by the sun and seems to disappear from the night sky.” In other words, without the light from the moon the sky will be super-dark, so if it’s not cloudy, conditions will be perfect for stargazing.

When is a black supermoon?

It all depends on where you are. If you live in most of North America, the next black moon will be this Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at 11:12 P.M. ET. But if you’re located in the Canadian Maritimes, Europe, or anywhere else that’s east of the Eastern Time Zone, the next black moon will occur on August 30, 2019.

What to look for during the black supermoon

According to Travel and Leisure, there is a 10-day period around the black supermoon where it’s going to be darker at night than usual, making it easier to see things like galaxies, constellations and shooting stars. If you’re in the zone where the black supermoon is occurring on Wednesday of this week, now is the time to get out at night: the optimal stargazing nights are July 25 to August 3.

It just so happens that this summer is a particularly good time to see the Milky Way, because the Earth is tilted towards it right now. Your best bet of spotting the arch of the Milky Way is to go somewhere as dark as possible—ideally somewhere at least 40 miles outside of the nearest town—so not having a moon around will definitely help make it more visible. In this environment (and again, assuming there are no clouds) the Milky Way should be visible from around 10 p.m. If you don’t see it right away, make sure to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness for at least 20 minutes.

And if that wasn’t enough, it also just so happens to be a good time to spot some shooting stars, courtesy of the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower. Though only around 15 shooting stars are expected each hour during the night, they should be pretty bright, and without all that moonlight, should be even easier to spot.

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