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By a commonly accepted definition, a supermoon has to come within 225,027 miles (362,146 km) of Earth.  They are not that rare and happen every few months. The Full Moons January 1 and 31, 2018, count as supermoons, and we can call the January 31 Moon a Blue Moon (a second in the same month).

It is a rarer occurrence that the new year is bookended by Full Moons on the first and last day and that both are “supermoons.” That popularized term is used to describe a new or full moon that occurs at roughly the same time the moon is nearest Earth (perigee) in its monthly orbit.

This New Year’s Day Full Moon is most often called the Wolf Moon, which is not a name that feels optimistic.

Why even give the Full Moons names?  That’s simple to answer. From the ancients through many other groups, including the early Native Americans, months didn’t exist because they didn’t use a Julian or Gregorian calendar. People gave each full moon a nickname to keep track of the seasons and lunar months. Lunar calendars came into being and are still used. The Moon’s phases are easier to observe than solar movements, but they are more variable.

Lunar Calendar by Fernando de GorocicaOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Most of the Full Moon names relate to an activity or an event that took place at the time in each location, so names are often both cultural and geographically bound. Your “Snow Moon” may well be quite warm and snow-free. Some groups  counted four seasons a year while others counted five, and some defined a year as 12 moons, while others said there were 13. Colonial Americans adopted some of the Native American names and so they were written down and still survive.

For January, “Wolf Moon” was used in Europe as well as here in America, but other European names included Ice Moon and Old Moon. Still, I was searching for a more optimistic January Moon name after a personally and nationally tough 2017.

There is the Chinese Holiday Moon, the Moon After the Yule and the Celtic Quiet (Quite) Moon which all sound kinder. But the new name I settled on for this year’s post is from New Guinea – the Rainbow Fish Moon. That calendar does not follow our months but this is the name listed for January’s Full Moon.

I could not find why this little fish is associated with this time. Does it spawn now or appear in greater numbers? Anyone from New Guinea reading this post who can comment?

There is a children’s book, The Rainbow Fish, that is new to me but apparently a very popular book. It has eye-catching foil stamping  illustrations that glitter on every page. The story is  about a beautiful fish who learns to make friends by sharing his most prized possessions and about individualism. Good messages, though it seems that has been interpreted differently by some.

The story was made into an animated television series of the same name.

And if you are reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, are you calling this the Hay Moon, Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, or Mead Moon? Post a comment!


Today – April 26, 2017 – is the first supermoon this year, but there is no Full Moon tonight. Can a New Moon be a supermoon? Yes.

Rather than a full supermoon, this is a new supermoon. It will happen again May 25 (the most “super of the year) and June 24.

As I have said before, a supermoon isn’t an astronomical term but a popular term to mark when the Moon is nearest to the Earth (perigee).

By a commonly accepted definition, to be a supermoon it has to come within 225,027 miles (362,146 km) of Earth. and that happens every few months. Besides the three Super New Moons, there will also be s Super Full Moon in December. After that, the following full moons on January 2 and 31, 2018, count as supermoons, too. Additionally, some will call the full moon on January 31, 2018 a Blue Moon.

Here is the caveat for this celestial event: Since you can’t really see a New Moon, you can’t see a  super one either. The Moon will be in the glare of the sun all day long and will rise and set with the Sun.

You will see the Moon’s impact with higher-than-usual tides since all New and Full Moons create bigger tides and perigee makes them even higher. We sometimes hear them referred to as “spring tides.”

Higher spring tides are one way to “see” the New Supermoon. – Photo: Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey (Wikimedia)


Comparison of a full moon and a “supermoon” Image: Stefano Sciarpetti

I’ll write more about the full moon of November 14, 2016 tomorrow, but this month’s full moon is the biggest, closest and brightest supermoon of the year. It’s also the closest supermoon since January 26, 1948. It won’t come this close to Earth again until November 25, 2034, so this might be the big one for your lifetime. That’s probably true for me, though I’m hoping to see that next one too!

The Moon will officially look big and full on November 14 at 1352 UTC (9:52 a.m. AST, 8:52 a.m. EST, 7:52 a.m. CST, 6:52 a.m. MST, 5:52 a.m. PST). But in the Americas, the moon is closer to full on the night of November 13.

This is our second of three supermoons this fall. That unscientific but popular name for the “perigee moon” refers to when the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit. If and when a perigee moon coincides with the full moon, the extra-large, brightly-lit moon is known as a supermoon.

It’s worth looking up on November 13 and 14. The Moon will rise in the east around sunset and be highest in the sky around midnight.


I’m giving you a week’s notice. There are too many descriptors for this month’s Full Moon that will appear on Sunday, September 27.  Super Harvest Blood Full Moon Eclipse covers most of the lunar adjectives that will probably be in the media this week.

September’s Full Moon is often called the Harvest Moon, but it will be at perigee and that gets it the additional tag of being a closer “supermoon.” It will be the closest Full Moon of this year. There will also be a total eclipse of the Moon.

Some people will call this a Blood Moon eclipse. It concludes a series of four straight total lunar eclipses that started on April 15, 2014. In California and Washington State, with their unfortunate wildfires, the soot in the air might even make the lunar eclipse appear more violet than red.

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It is usually in September though it can be in October. This year the autumnal equinox was on Wednesday, September 23, so this Full Moon is just 4 days later.

The Harvest Moon is probably the most popular name for this Full Moon because it was the only one given the same name by both the English and by many American Indian tribes of eastern and northern North America.

Staples like corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice were typically ready for harvest by this Full Moon. Another name used by some tribes was the Corn Moon.

I did find other names for the September Full Moon, including the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon, the Gypsy Moon, the Barley Moon and the Elk Call Moon.

This Full Moon is often though of and portrayed in pictures as being orange or red-tinged moon which seems appropriate to the autumn color palette. But any special effects have to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The warm color of the moon shortly after it rises is an optical illusion, based on the fact that when the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through a greater amount of atmospheric particles (including pollution and smoke) than when the moon is overhead. Those particles scatter the blue part of the light spectrum but allows the reddish component of the light to travel a straighter path to your eyes.

All celestial bodies look reddish when they are low in the sky. We also like to portray moonlight as blue in art, photography and films which comes from the reflected white light from the sun.

And although the size of the Moon never changes, it will be closer this weekend, and the human eye perceives a low-hanging moon to be larger than one that’s high in the sky. If you want the full effect of this Full Moon illusion, look at it when it is low in the sky.

And hello to our southern hemisphere friends! Remember that the Full Moons of September, October and November as seen from the northern hemisphere correspond to the full moons of March, April and May as seen from the southern hemisphere, and aw we enter the autumn equinox later this week, they enter spring.



There has been a lot of popular media coverage of the “supermoons” the past few years.  That is not a scientific term, but one coined about thirty years ago. It is more on the side of astrologers than astronomers.

People know that the Moon affects tides. Many people suspect that it affects people and animals, although much of that falls into my “moon lore” category.

But it is great that media coverage pf the term has people looking up at the night sky.  Tonight’s Full Moon will appear about 14% larger than usual at a point in its journey across our sky.

A “supermoon” can be a New Moon or a Full Moon when it occurs at roughly the same time the moon is nearest Earth in its monthly orbit. That is properly called perigee, the term for the moon being at its closest point to Earth.

The term “supermoon” is used to describe a new or full moon that occurs at roughly the same time the moon is nearest Earth in its monthly orbit.

If you want to sound more scientific, it is the perigee when the moon is at its closest point to Earth. You can sound more erudite by adding that it comes from the late 16th century French périgée, via modern Latin from Greek perigeion ‘close around the earth,’ from peri- ‘around’ + gē ‘earth.’


“Supermoon” is not a term that astronomers use. It is from astrology and is connected to the idea that the Moon (and so especially a supermoon) has an effect on not only the tides but on people. Richard Nolle coined the term more than 30 years ago, but it really caught on in this Internet age.

We had two supermoons in January – on January 1 and 30 – but they were new-moon supermoons. The full moons on July 12, August 10 and September 9 all enjoy the supermoon designation because the centers of these full moons and the center of Earth are less than 361,863 kilometers (224,851 miles) apart. Three in a row.  The closest supermoon of the year will be in August.

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