March full moon: Best time to see the first supermoon of 2020

Full moon in dark night sky with stars.

Perry Vlahos

Posted February 24, 2020

There’s a showstopper supemoon rising in March and it’s essential viewing.

There’s a word you’ve almost certainly never heard of. It’s a perfect word. Absolutely apt for what it describes. Astronomers use it to refer to the moon’s position when it’s closest to Earth. It’s ‘perigee’ – composed from two Greek words meaning ‘close to earth’. 

The word you’ve most often heard in its place is ‘supermoon’. First conjured up by a non-scientist – an astrologer – in more recent times it’s been hijacked by advertising agencies and journalists to sensationalise headlines and make them more attention grabbing. (Plus: Victoria's best stargazing spots.)

There’s a slight difference however. Whereas perigee can occur at different phases, supermoon is specifically used for when perigee and full moon phase coincide.

No matter which of the two words you prefer, you’re in luck because there’s a big, big moon heading our way in March and it’s not to be missed. 

The average Earth-to-moon distance is 384,000 kilometres. However, because the moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly circular but slightly elliptical, it can be as distant as 406,000 and as near as 356,000 kilometres from us. On 9 March it will be very nearly at this point and the nights before and after, almost as close.

Let’s be clear, a moonrise beats a sunrise easily in my book, but to have it coincide with its closest approach to Earth makes it absolutely essential viewing. Were it a TV program it would be the top-rating reality show. 

The best night is Monday 9 March, when our lunar neighbour rises a couple of minutes after the sun sets at 7.48pm. Find a location with a low clear eastern horizon without trees, buildings or nearby hills obstructing your view – an easterly-facing beach is good or top of a hill, and stare at the horizon until the moon slowly, yet majestically, creeps over it. Sunday night it is visible earlier and Tuesday night it starts a little later at 8.28pm.

Eyes alone will suffice, but binoculars will allow you to see some craters and bright rays – pulverised ‘ejecta’ from collisions that formed those prominent craters. Select The Waterboys singing The Whole of the Moon as background music, and enjoy!