It surely can’t have escaped your notice that tonight there is to be a supermoon. This phenomenon occurs when a full moon coincides with the Moon’s closest approach to the earth, causing it to appear bigger and brighter than usual.
Tonight the full moon will be closer to earth than it has been since 1948, generating a great deal of interest and anticipation, with many making special plans to see the sight (weather permitting, of course.)
You might also have read that this so-called supermoon is perhaps not so “super” after all. (If not, please stop reading now, bookmark this page, and come back after you have enjoyed the spectacle.)
Contrary to claims that the moon will appear around 14% wider and 30% brighter than usual, in fact it will only be around half that. (The exaggerated claim makes a comparison with a full moon’s furthest approach to earth, not the average.) Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, has remarked:
“I don’t know, but if you have a 16-inch pizza, would you call that a super pizza compared with a 15-inch pizza?”
I do understand the impulse to correct such misapprehensions and misunderstandings. But why do we find it so necessary? And what might we lose through this obsession with being correct?
In his book View from a Bouncy Castle, Adrian Plass tells of his young daughter, Katy, holding a bluebell in her outstretched hand, shouting “DAFFODIL!! DAFFODIL!!”. Having corrected her gently (“I am as tediously obsessed with accuracy as most parents”) his daughter simply continued, “BLUEBELL!! BLUEBELL!!”. Adrian Plass remarks:
Katy’s joy was being part of the morning and having a beautiful flower, not in anything so trivial as being right.
Fortunately, Katy was too young to be bothered by the correction: “it didn’t change anything important.”. But sadly we adults tend to be rather less resilient when it comes to such things.
How many, I wonder, will have lost something of their excitement on learning that the supermoon is apparently not so “super” after all? Some might even have abandoned their plans for this evening, deciding that it’s not worth making any special effort. And what a pity that would be. It is always worth looking up to the Moon – as people have done throughout human history – and a full moon in particular is always a special sight.
All of which reminds me of a few lines of a poem I wrote some years back:
But now it seems much harder to enjoy such simple things;
To receive with open hands and heart the gifts that each day brings.
No longer just accepted with unconsidered pleasure,
But analysed and categorised, I miss the hidden treasure.
Yes, of course there is a time for analysis, and learning, and understanding (and, indeed, the more we know, the more there is to wonder at). But there is also a time simply to receive what is set before us; to open our eyes and ears and heart to wonder and awe, and to the joy of being part of this wondrous universe, “not in anything so trivial as being right.”
Image of supermoon by Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.