Here's Why the April Super Pink Moon Is So Special

Painting of Earth, Milky Way and moon.
"Earth and the Milky Way and moon" by Władysław T. Benda (1918).

Library of Congress / Public Domain

Skygazers are in for a treat in when the full Pink Moon, the biggest supermoon of the year, dazzles the heavens.

While for many of us the world seems stuck in a Dantean circle of hell situated somewhere between Groundhog Day and Contagion, the Earth nonetheless keeps spinning and her favorite little sidekick, the moon, keeps making the rounds. This month, we will be graced with a super Pink Moon, and it may serve as a lovely little distraction during tough times. Here's what the April moon has going for it.

The moon will be its closest to Earth all year

We are currently in the middle of a miniseries of supermoons – the full moons of March, April, and May swing closer in their elliptical orbit to Earth (known as perigee), making them appear larger and brighter. But of the three, April's full moon will be the one that comes closest to our home planet, and it will be the closest full moon for the entire year. She will pass by a mere 221,772 miles away; for context, at its farthest point this year, which happened in March, the moon was 252,707 miles away.

Why it is called the Pink Moon

Unfortunately, despite its rosy name, the full Pink Moon will be its normal golden wan self. However, the name does have a poetic origin. Many early Native American tribes kept tabs on time by naming full moons rather than the calendar months as we know them. And since the moons helped keep track of the seasons, their names generally aligned with nature. In the case of April, the pink full moon ushered in the arrival of creeping phlox (Phlox subulate) and its early waves of pink.

Full moon names varied from tribe to tribe, others for April include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.

It will be lovely from sunset to sunrise

The (not so) blushing beauty will be visible toward the east after sunset on April 7, and will reach peak illumination at 10:35 P.M. EDT. It will be at its highest around midnight, and will then begin slinking back down to set in the west around sunrise on April 8. Because of the “moon illusion,” it will look especially large when it is close to the horizon.

The Pink Moon has a Virgo connection

"Urania's Mirror" painting by Sidney Hall
"Urania's Mirror" by Sidney Hall. Library of Congress / Public Domain

You may notice a bright star near this moon – it is Spica, the constellation Virgo’s sole 1st-magnitude star. The full moon in April is always situated in front of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, according to EarthSky, heralding the arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. You can see an interactive map here, showing the April full moon in front of Virgo. (The image above comes from the exquisite 19th-century 'Urania's Mirror' box set, which included 32 celestial chart cards with perforated stars to help map the skies.)

It is the first full moon of spring, and also the paschal full moon

Since this is the first full moon since the equinox, it will be the first full moon of spring – because of this, it is also known as the paschal full moon and determines the date of Easter. Being a “moveable feast” (a religious observance without a fixed calendar date), Easter falls on the Sunday after the paschal full moon, which will be on April 12.

Is a supermoon such a big deal?

full moon
NASA/Goddard/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter / Public Domain 

The left half shows the apparent size of a supermoon (full moon at perigee), while the right half shows the apparent size and brightness of a micromoon (full moon at apogee). Some may complain that we supermoon superfans like to make a big deal over nothing. At its largest, a supermoon appears 14 percent larger in diameter than the smallest full moon. As for the illumination factor, its brightness can increase up to 30 percent. So it may not be enormous and as bright as the sun, but I think there’s something lovely about knowing that Earth’s only natural satellite is just a bit closer to the mothership. And anytime anyone has a chance to look up in the sky and marvel at its wonders – well I would say that’s cause for celebration.

Oh, and for the record, NASA reminds us that supermoons will not cause “extreme flooding, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, severe weather, nor tsunamis, despite what incorrect and non-scientific speculators might suggest.” Though it may cause someone around here to climb up on the roof around sunset and feel some much-needed serenity as the beautiful pink moon rises from the skyline.