On Saturday, January 21, 2023, the New Moon will be precisely 221,561 miles/356,568 km from Earth. As reported by Timeanddate.com, that’s the closest it will come to our planet since the year 1030—a time of the Crusades, the Norman Conquest of Britain and early Vikings settlements in North America, a century ironically sometimes called the “Dark Ages.”
This “ultimate supermoon” also signals the beginning of Chinese Lunar New Year and comes during a rare conjunction between Venus and Saturn that will be best viewed just after sunset in the southwest on Sunday, January 22, 2022.
Why is the Moon suddenly so close?
Why is the New Moon so close?
Our natural satellite in space—which will be completely invisible to us during the cosmic event, leaving a dark sky for stargazers—will be at a smaller distance to Earth than for the last 992 years.
This so-called “Supermoon” (officially a perigee New Moon)—the opposite to a “Micro Moon” (officially called an apogee New Moon)—is therefore a very rare occurrence, but it’s part of a normal pattern.
This close Moon’s influence on our tides will be especially strong. Combined with the influence of the Sun on the same side of Earth the result will be powerful “king” tides in coastal areas between January 20-25, likely peaking on January 23.
The Moon’s orbit of Earth
The Moon’s orbital path around Earth is a slight ellipse, so each month there’s a near-point (perigee) and a far-point (apogee). At perigee the Moon appears a little larger in the sky than the average apparent size (a “supermoon”), and at apogee, a little smaller (a “micromoon”). When either occurs at New Moon there’s nothing to see at all.
This uniqueness of this weekend’s apogee New Moon was noticed by scientist Graham Jones at Timeanddate.com when he looked into the closest Earth-Moon distances at New Moon over a 2,000-year period. He discovered three New Moons where the distance was less than 356,570 km (221,562 miles)—in 1030, this weekend and in 2368.
That makes this weekend’s New Moon the closest since 1030 and the closest in a period of 1,337 years.
This weekend’s New Moon and Lunar New Year
Though there will be nothing to see or observe, the instance of New Moon this weekend is culturally significant because it signals the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year and the “Year of the Rabbit.”
Celebrated in China for thousands of years, the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday—also called Spring Festival—is based on a complicated calendar that uses both the lunar (cycles of the Moon) and solar (Earth’s annual orbit around the Sun) to calculate dates.
Well over a billion people celebrate Lunar New Year each year with fireworks, parades and in China with the exchange of red envelopes filled with money.
What is a New Moon?
The opposite of a Full Moon, a New Moon is roughly between Earth and the Sun. It’s the first lunar phase. During this instant the Sun and Earth are on opposite sides of the Moon, with the Moon and the Sun roughly aligned. If the Moon was precisely between Earth and the Sun, the result would be a solar eclipse.
How the Earth-Moon distance affects solar eclipses
During such an event the distance of the Moon from Earth is crucial. If it’s relatively close to Earth it can block out the entirety of the Sun’s disk and cause a total solar eclipse, which next happens on April 20, 2023 in Australia, Timor Leste and West Papua.
However, if the New Moon’ is relatively distant and thus looks smaller, it can’t completely cover the Sun and the the result is an annular solar eclipse (also called a “ring of fire”), which next happens across the US, Mexico and South America on October 14, 2023.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.