Astronomy Calendar and the Origins of Full Moon Names
by Donato O. Cacciapaglia
As the days shorten and the nights noticeably lengthen, the time has come for enjoying the night skies in the central Appalachian and Piedmont regions. It is also the time for the notorious Blue Ridge haze that has tainted our skies and viewing pleasure through the spring and summer seasons to dissipate, allowing clearer viewing of the nighttime sky.
The Harvest Moon, which occurred on the night of October 6th at 11:12 PM EDT, fell this year in October instead of the more usual September since the previous full moon fell so much earlier than the autumnal equinox, which this year was the latest it can ever be, September 23. Traditionally, the designation of Harvest Moon goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. In two years out of three, the harvest moon comes during the month of September, but every third year it occurs in early October, like this year.
The Harvest Moon was the only full moon given the same name by both the English name and by the Native Americans of eastern and northern North America. The name comes from this full moon falling during the peak of the harvest of crops before the winter winds arrive. As days grew shorter farmers could work on into the evening as the bright full moon rises in the east. Usually, the full moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for a few nights around the Harvest Moon, moonrise seems to be at nearly the same time each night although each moonrise is actually 25 to 30 minutes later each night across the United States at this time of year.
Besides the Harvest Moon, all of the full moons during the year have one colloquial name, or often more than one such name. The other full moons as we round out 2006 are:
- The full moon name for November is the Hunters Moon which will occur on November 5th at 7:58 AM EST. This name comes from English tradition. As the fields were cleared of crops by the harvest, hunters had better visibility for hunting game before the coming of winter. However, this moon had a different name in North America where the Native Americans called it the Beaver Moon. Native Americans and voyageurs would set out their traps for the warm winter furs. Also, beavers are very active this time of year as they build up their internal fat reserves for the winter and prepare their beaver mounds to survive the winter cold. Another name for this full moon is the Frost Moon as freezing overnight temperatures occur no later than early November or even much earlier in the higher elevations of Appalachians.
- The full moon that will rise on the fourth of December 2006 is called the Cold Moon. It will peak at 7:24 PM EST. Cold Moon is the traditional Native American name. The English traditional name is the Moon before Yule. As winter cold takes hold, the nights are at their longest and skies are their darkest and clearest. Another name for this full moon is the Long Nights Moon. The skies are clear and good for observing the heavens during this period moon because the cold air can hold very little water vapor, but any full moon is bright enough to wash out the sky and make most stars and planets hard to see.
Full moon names and moonrise times, and dates for 2007, Native American name first, then English:
- Wolf Moon / Old Moon - January 3rd 8:57 AM EST.
- Snow Moon / Hunger Moon or Wolf Moon - February 2nd 12:45 AM EST
- Worm Moon / Lenten Moon, Sugar Moon, or Sap Moon - March 3rd 6:17 PM EST **total lunar eclipse for eastern North America**
- Pink Moon / Egg Moon or Fish Moon - April 2nd 1:15 PM EST
- Flower Moon / Milk Moon - May 2nd 6:09 AM EDT
- (No Native American name) / Blue Moon - May 31st 9:04 PM EDT. The term “blue moon” means a second full moon that falls in a single month. However, the original meaning of a blue moon was the third full moon in a season, or quarter year, when there were four full moons in that season.
- Strawberry Moon / Flower Moon, Rose Moon, or Hot Moon - June 30th 9:49 AM EDT
- Buck Moon / Hay Moon or Thunder Moon - July 29th 8:48 PM EDT
- Sturgeon Moon / Grain Moon or Red Moon - August 28th 6:35 AM EDT
- Harvest Moon / Fruit Moon or Barley Moon - September 26th 3:45 PM EDT
- Hunters Moon / Harvest Moon or Dying Grass Moon - October 26th 12:52 AM EDT
- Beaver Moon / Frost Moon - November 24th 9:30 AM EST
- Cold Moon / Moon before Yule - December 23rd 8:16 AM EST
Other key astronomical events for 2007:
- Perihelion - Earth’s closest approach to the Sun (91.6 million miles) - January 3rd 3:20 PM EST.
- Total Lunar Eclipse March 3rd - only the mid portion and ending of this eclipse will be viewable from eastern North America
- Spring Equinox – night and day of equal duration; first day of Spring - March 21st 7:07 PM EST
- Summer Solstice – longest day of the year; first day of Summer - June 21st 2:06 PM EDT
- Aphelion - Earth and the Sun at farthest distance apart (94.8 million miles) - July 7th 7:00PM EDT
- Autumn Equinox – night and day of equal duration; first day of Autumn - September 23rd 5:51 AM EDT
- Winter Solstice - December 22 1:08 AM EST
Sources for Further Reading:
“Some Key Astronomical Dates and Times,” U.S. Naval Observatory, http://aa.usno.navy.mil/.