Phantasm Supermoon

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
November 17, 2016

Early this week the world was treated to another “supermoon.” As I understand it, that’s a term coined five or so years ago (astronomers call it a “perigee full moon”) to describe the phenomenon we see when the moon is full, and at its closest point—the perigee—to Earth. Supermoons aren’t all that rare; there will be another in December. But this November’s was notable for being the largest, the closest, the brightest for almost 7 decades—since 1948. It’s said we won’t have another this close until 2034.

Yet this supermoon left me, once again, underwhelmed.

How did it look from where you are? Big? Intensely luminous? Yes, it did here too. It was a lovely sight, appearing larger and more colorful when newly risen and still near the horizon, of course. This is typical. There was a bank of clouds that prevented us from seeing it the moment it began to rise, but I got a fairly decent shot of it before it climbed too high.


Glen and I felt privileged to see it, as it may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. But it wasn’t very different from many other full moons we’ve seen on clear nights. Where do you have to live to see the impressive supermoons professional photographers have captured over the years? The ones that appear so large in the sky that they dwarf the Washington Monument, London Bridge, the Taj Mahal? I’m sure you’ve seen some of the same photos I have. Did your November supermoon live up to those photos? If not, do you feel a tad disappointed in the supermoon you saw? I do. Where do I have to go to find a moon that really puts the “super” in supermoon?

Well, there was one place . . . It was a summer night in 1984 or ‘85. Glen and I, newly married, were going back to our house in New Sweden after having dinner at a pizza place in Pflugerville (a much smaller Central Texas town in those days). New Sweden, about 8 miles from Pflugerville, consisted of a scattered population of country folk and, on a hilltop, a white wooden Lutheran church with an austere copper spire spiking the horizon. It was around 10 o’clock and Glen was driving us the back way. Going home, we didn’t see another vehicle that night—just the black silhouettes of trees, cornstalks growing high in the fields on both sides of us, and the distant porchlights of an occasional farmhouse. The road was dark, the headlights barely adequate to illuminate the pavement.

Then we rounded a bend in the road, and beheld the freshly risen moon.

It was shining white, round and full, but the shock lay in its size. It was . . . enormous. Imagine the moon in the photo above, only many, many times bigger. Imagine its lower rim touching the treetops in the photo, and its upper rim rising above the leaves in the foreground. And its breadth swollen to fill the entire frame.

The word “supermoon” hadn’t been invented yet, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It can’t begin to describe what Glen and I witnessed, and none of those astonishing supermoon photographs we’ve seen come close.

We were awestruck. Horrified. Glen pulled off the road and stopped the car. We sat staring at it for a long time. The monstrous moon bore down on us, so near we could see every dimple and scar on its face, and it was hurtling across the sky to collide with Earth. There was nothing we could do but wait for it to happen.

I don’t remember anything else about that night. Did the moon’s appearance shrink to a more normal, less threatening size as it rose higher? Yes, it must have. At what point did our alarm subside enough for us to resume our drive home? I have no idea. But I remember one thing: No one we spoke to about it afterward saw the same thing we did. I found nothing written about it in the local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. People just smiled in a tolerant way when we told them what we’d seen that night, clearly thinking we exaggerated the event, if it ever happened at all.

Did it?

Without corroborating evidence, we’ve been forced to ask ourselves: Was it pure hallucination? Neither of us believe it was. Shared hallucination is rare, and I’m pretty sure there was no peyote topping our pizza. Even all these years later, Glen and I agree on the phenomenon we observed that night. Why it seems to have been meant for us alone is another question. All we know is that we’re thankful we were allowed to be part of it.

As for this November’s so-called supermoon? I wish I could say it rocked me back. But maybe 2034’s will, if I’m lucky enough to be here.


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