Besides the Sun, the moon is perhaps the most recognizable object in the Earth’s skies. To our eyes, it appears to be the same size as the Sun, and even during a solar eclipse, the moon fits rather perfectly within the Sun’s frame. Despite appearances, the moon is far smaller than the Sun. The moon only appears as large as it does due to the fact that it is located fairly close to the Earth. In fact, the moon is so close to us that it is the only celestial object whose surface features are visible with the naked eye. Just how far away is the moon?
The Distance To The Moon
It may seem like a simple question with a single answer, yet the number will be different depending on when you ask it. It may not seem like it, but the distance between the Earth and the moon changes over the course of the moon’s orbit. That’s because the moon doesn’t orbit the Earth in a perfect circle but rather in an elliptical manner (think of it as slightly egg shaped).
The moon has both a maximum and minimum distance from the Earth. During its furthest approach to the Earth, the moon is about 251,000 miles away. During its closest approach, the moon is around 226,000 miles away. Although the difference between these two numbers may not seem like much, it’s a difference of about four Earths. How the distance between the Earth and moon changes may not seem too important, but it actually has a profound impact on our world and how we see our nearest celestial neighbor.
The Distance To The Moon And Its Impact On Earth
The most significant impact the moon’s distance from us has on our world is its effect on ocean tides. If you have ever spent time near a shoreline, you have likely noticed how the size of the shoreline changes depending on the height of the water. How exactly does the ocean shift back and forth against the shoreline? As the distance between the Earth and the moon changes, the strength of the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth also changes. When the moon is at its farthest distance from Earth, its gravitational pull is at its weakest. When the moon is at its closest approach, its gravitational pull is at its strongest. Over the course of its orbit, the moon tugs on the Earth, slightly pulling it back and forth. The moon’s gravity is what pushes and pulls the tides towards and away from the shoreline.
Super Moons And Solar Eclipses
As one might expect, the size of the moon will appear differently depending on how far away it is from the Earth. Super moons are events that occur when a full moon is at its closest point to the Earth. Interestingly, a super moon will appear 17% brighter and 30% larger than when a full moon is at its farthest approach. Another interesting event can occur if a solar eclipse happens to coincide with the moon’s farthest approach. If the moon happens to pass in front of the Sun while it’s 251,000 miles away, it will not completely cover the Sun. Rather, a ring of sunlight will form around the moon, creating what is called a ring of fire solar eclipse.
Asking how far away the moon is from the Earth may seem like a simple question with a single answer, yet sometimes it is the simplest questions that end up having a profound impact on how we view the natural world around us.