Earlier this year my partner and I were driving home after visiting some friends who lived in San Francisco. As we exited the Bay Bridge, we noticed a gigantic moon appear just above the horizon.
After reading this recent article originally published by CNN, I was finally able to make sense of what we saw. What we witnessed was one of this year's “supermoons”.
Last Tuesday saw the rise of the first supermoon in the month of August. The second supermoon, on Aug. 30, will also be a “blue moon,” or the second to emerge in the same month.
A supermoon is technically known as a perigee-syzygy moon. Syzygy being latin for “full moon” and perigee indicating the time when the moon is closest to the Earth’s orbit. Basically when the moon reaches its closest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit during the full moon, a supermoon is born.
This alignment results in a stunning optical illusion, where the moon appears significantly larger and more luminous than during an average full moon. The term "supermoon" was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979, and since then, these celestial events have gained immense popularity.
The relative increase in size and brightness during a supermoon is primarily due to a trick of perspective. The moon appears larger due to the Ponzo illusion—an optical phenomenon where objects near the horizon seem larger than those overhead. Additionally, the moon's proximity to the Earth intensifies the reflected sunlight, enhancing its shine.
For centuries the moon has held a deep cultural significance to cultures across the world. One notable example is China's Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival. Celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, this festival marks the harvest and the reunion of family members.
Families gather to admire the moon's beauty while feasting on mooncakes, a traditional treat of red bean paste surrounded by a flaky crust. My roommate in San Francisco would always bring them around at the end of August after visiting his family. I always thought they were called mooncakes because they were similar to moonpies and was wary of them at first. Luckily they were literally one million times better and became the one dessert I look forward to when visiting Asian bakeries.
Japan's Tsukimi, or Moon Viewing Festival, is another celebration that highlights the moon. Similarly taking place in fall, this festival involves setting up small altars adorned with offerings like rice dumplings, pampas grass, and sweet potato.
For Native American cultures, the moon has held deep spiritual and cultural significance for generations. The Lakota Sioux, for instance, have names for each full moon of the year, with meanings tied to the cycles of nature and hunting. The moon is seen as a guide, helping navigate the rhythms of life in harmony with the Earth.
I’ve started making a practice of going on a walk after every meal as I’ve heard it’s good for digestion. Walks after dinner have become my favorite. Most of the time I’m not in a rush to get to anything. It gives a chance to relax and decompress the day with my partner. I’m looking forward to August 30th, where my night walk will be a little more special than usual.
Editor's Note: The "Notes on the Valley" blog is written by Monith Ilavarasan, who grew up in Pleasanton. After a career in tech, he took a sabbatical to be a community organizer. He has continued to work in tech and shares his thoughts on the people, places and events that make up and shape the Tri-Valley.