One month ago, the closest full moon of the 21st century drenched the night sky in moonlight. We won’t see a closer full moon until November 25, 2034. But you won’t notice the difference this week. Another supermoon is coming on December 14th and will appear up to 30% brighter than an apogee full moon (furthest distance from Earth).
Not every skywatcher is a fan of supermoons, though. Especially when they occur during the peak of one of the best annual meteor showers. The Geminid meteor shower peak falls right as the moon is at its closest and brightest. In the best viewing conditions, Geminids produce 120 meteors per hour. With a supermoon hogging the sky, avid meteor shower watchers will be lucky to see a dozen per hour.
It will still be worth it to keep an eye out for Geminids, though. Because fireballs are common with this meteor shower, any meteors that do overcome the moon’s brightness will be spectacular. That is if the weather cooperates. Much of the U.S. will contend with cloud cover on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
You might be better off waiting until Dec. 15 and 16 to catch the Geminids. Weather should improve in some areas, and the full moon’s peak will have past. The moon will still be an issue, but those of you with enough patience should still be able to grab a great photo or two.
Speaking of photos, NASA’s go-to man for great images, Bill Ingalls, has some tips for shooting this week’s supermoon. With 25+ years of photographing missions for NASA, Ingalls knows a thing or two.
His first tip? Use your surroundings to liven up the shot. “Don’t make the mistake of photographing the moon by itself with no reference to anything,” he said. “I’ve certainly done it myself, but everyone will get that shot. Instead, think of how to make the image creative—that means tying it into some land-based object. It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place.”
Take the shot below for example. It looks much better than just a photo of the moon hanging in the night sky by itself.
What if you don’t live near a historic monument? In 2009, Ingalls showed how a red headlamp and a view through trees created what National Geographic called one of the top 10 space photos of the year.
Ingalls has a few tips for those using smartphones. “Tap the screen and hold your finger on the object (in this case, the moon) to lock the focus. Then slide your finger up or down to darken or lighten the exposure,” says Ingalls.
Just got a new DSLR? He uses the daylight white balance setting for capturing moonlight. And wants people using longer lenses to “keep in mind that the moon is a moving object. It’s a balancing act between trying to get the right exposure and realizing that the shutter speed typically needs to be a lot faster.”
If you’re lucky, you might just catch a Geminid fireball in your supermoon image. Remember, any meteors that are visible will be bright ones.