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Mini-moon: Smallest full moon of 2011 rises tonight

October 11, 2011 |  2:09 pm

Moon

Bigger isn't always better.

So tonight, why not get outside and look up at what astronomers say will be -- or rather, will appear to be -- the smallest full moon of 2011?

According to astronomy expert Joe Rao, the smallest full moon of 2011 will be 12.3% smaller than the largest full moon of 2011, which occurred in March.

The difference in perceived size is due to the moon's elliptical orbit. In March, the moon turned full just minutes away from the perigee of its orbit, or the point at which the moon is closest to Earth. Tonight's full moon will reach its fullness peak at 7:06 p.m. PDT; just a few hours later, at 5 a.m., the moon will hit the apogee of its orbit, or point at which the moon is the farthest from Earth.

The perigee and apogee of the moon's orbit change each month, but in March the moon was 221,565 miles from Earth when it appeared to be full; tonight, the moon will be 252,546 miles from  Earth when it appears full.

For those who don't have a calculator handy, that's a difference of 30,981 miles.

So will we be able to notice the difference?

"I really should say no, because 12% is just not that much of a change,"said Steve Edberg, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in an interview with The Times. "But to someone who was paying close attention and remembered what the moon looked like in March, there's a difference. And there is quite a noticeable difference in pictures."

The October full moon is traditionally called the hunter's moon, and like the harvest moon -- which occurred in September -- will appear to be full for longer than normal. All this light could have helped hunters in their pursuit of prey.

One thing we're wondering: What does one call the smallest full moon of the year? News outlets dubbed the largest moon of the year a super-moon.  Perhaps we should call tonight's underwhelming lunar display a mini-moon.

ALSO:

Some background on the harvest moon

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Seattle 'superhero' crime-fighter arrested on assault charges

--Deborah Netburn

 Image: This picture of the largest full moon of 2011  was taken in March. Tonight, lunar observers can witness the smallest moon of 2011. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

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