Harvesting full Moon names


I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Harvest Moon in September. It’s quite a sight – the full and golden orb rising above the horizon through the gathering dusk – and one of the few times when I’m not wishing the Moon was less illuminated.

Why is it called the Harvest Moon? Well, the full Moon closest to the autumn equinox rises close to sunset for several days either side of being full, instead of rising around 50 minutes later each day, as is normally the case.

In the days before combine harvesters, farmers out in the fields at harvest time were able to work by the light of the Moon to bring in the crops.

It’s not the only full Moon that has been named. The next full Moon after Harvest Moon is the Hunter’s Moon, named for much the same extended-hunting-by-the-light-of-the-Moon reasons.

In the English-speaking world each month’s full Moon has a name – December’s is the Cold Moon, January’s is the Wolf Moon, February’s is the Snow Moon while March’s is the Storm Moon. Each full Moon has a name in Hindu and Buddhist cultures too.

While these names are based on folklore, some have an empirical reason behind them. Take the Blue Moon, for example, which can be defined as the third full Moon in a season of four full Moons.

Normally, each of the four seasons has three full Moons, but because the calendar year is longer than the lunar cycle of 12 full Moons, every two or three years there’s an extra full Moon. The next time this will happen will be on 12 August 2013.

And then there’s the Cheshire Moon, a crescent Moon whose two points face upwards from the horizon, giving the appearance of Lewis Carroll’s smiling Cheshire Cat. We’ll have to wait until the waxing crescent Moon at the end of January next year for that effect.

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