‘Micro’ moon seen in full glory on Friday morning

Image: Ian Griffin
Image: Ian Griffin
On Monday, I get to celebrate the start of my 59th orbit around the sun. One of the (many) wonderful things about moving to New Zealand has been that, instead of waking up to cake and candles on a cold winter morning in Oxford, I now open my curtains to savour the long days of our fine Dunedin summer.

It is full moon this week. The precise moment of full moon is 6:54am on Friday. By then the moon will have set. So, if you want to view our fully illuminated closest celestial neighbour, you will have to head out sometime between moonrise at 10pm Thursday and moonset just after 6am Friday.

January’s full moon occurs some three days after the moon reaches its furthest point from Earth (astronomers call this the lunar apogee). The consequence is that Friday’s full moon is called a micro moon because it appears smaller than average. It turns out that it is one of the three smallest moons of the year.

Generally, the full moon isn’t the best time to stargaze. That is because bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest stars with the unaided eye. However, the fact that the dimmer stars are hard to see makes it easier to pick out the shapes of the constellations, which are primarily delineated by the brighter stars.

Friday’s full moon is in the constellation Cancer. I would be surprised if you could see any of the dim stars that make up this ancient constellation, thanks to the proximity of the bright moon. Leo is the dimmest of all the constellations of the Zodiac. According to legend, it is named to honour a crab crushed by the foot of Hercules during his battle with a multi-headed monster.

Keen-eyed sky watchers will have more success picking out the constellations of Gemini (the twins) and Leo (the Lion). Gemini’s stars, Pollux and Castor, should be easy to spot below and to the left of the moon. In Regulus, Leo’s brightest star will be above and to the moon's right.