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Quirk of moon's orbit makes it a 'super' sight

Hope you had a chance to stare up at the moon last night.

Of course, it was hard to miss.

It was the biggest, brightest full moon of the year, as it passed closer to the Earth than usual.

Saturday's event was known as a "supermoon." The moon -- whose distance from our planet varies because of its elliptical orbit -- was about 221,802 miles from Earth at 11:34 p.m. Saturday. That's about 15,300 miles closer than average.

That proximity made the moon appear roughly 16 percent larger, but it would have been hard to tell with the naked eye, said Alan Friedman, president of the Buffalo Astronomical Association.

"It's like the difference between ordering a 16-inch pizza or a 17-inch pizza," Friedman said.

Like any full moon, the supermoon looked bigger when it's on or near the horizon rather than higher in the sky, thanks to an optical illusion. So the best time to enjoy it was about 8:14 p.m. Saturday.

And while beautiful, a supermoon is not that unique, Friedman said. The last supermoon was March 19, 2011, and it was about 240 miles closer than this year's.

If you really want to see a celestial event, Friedman said, mark your calendars for June 5. "That's when Venus passes between Earth and the sun so it creates a beautiful black silhouette against the sun," Friedman said. "We aren't going to see it again."

That's because the next transit of Venus across the sun will happen in 2117.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com