This is the week to look up to the sky as the impending 'super snow moon' will be the biggest and brightest moon of the month.
It's called a super moon because the moon has an elliptical orbit, and one point in the orbit – the perigee – brings it 50,000km closer to the Earth that the apogee, when it is further away. The super moon, also known as a perigee full moon, appears significantly bigger and brighter than usual as it orbits closer to Earth. When that happens, the sky is illuminated much more dramatically than usual.
If you're wondering why it's called a snow moon, that goes back to earlier times when Native American tribes tracked the changing seasons by the lunar months rather than the solar calendar. While January's full moon is called a wolf moon and was named after howling wolves searching for food on cold winter nights, the snow moon is the first full moon in the month of February. It was thus named because it's the time of year when snow is usually deepest, and because it was also the most difficult time of year for gathering food, it was also known as the hunger moon.
The moon will enter its full phase at 2.33am Universal Time on Sunday 9 February/9.33pm EST on Saturday 8 February. It will be at perigee 36 hours later. When it is at full illumination, the super moon can be too bright to study in detail, so it can be best to look at it at moonrise or moonset. It will be a pale orange colour as it rises and sets, and if the skies are clear, the viewing conditions will be optimum. So if you're a fan of dramatic lunar events, get ready to welcome the super snow moon.