Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes of a few hundred years ago kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.
There were some variations in the Moon names, but in general the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England on west to Lake Superior.
European settlers followed their own customs and created some of their own names. Since the lunar ("synodic") month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full Moon shift from year to year.
Below are all the Full Moon names, as well as the dates and times, for the next twelve months. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern Time Zone.
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Jan. 14, 4:48 a.m. EST: The Full Wolf Moon. Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. It was also known as the Old Moon or the "Moon after Yule." In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next moon.
Feb. 12, 11:44 p.m. EST: The Full Snow Moon. Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.
March 14, 6:35 p.m. EST: The Full Worm Moon. In this month the ground softens and the earthworm casts reappear, inviting the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. In addition, a very minor penumbral lunar eclipse will take place on this night; the Moon will pass through the Earth's outer and cause a slight tarnishing or smudginess to appear on its lower rim. The darkest phase of this eclipse comes at 6:48 p.m. EST. For about 40 minutes before and after this time, the subtle penumbral shading may be detected with binoculars and even the naked eye.
April 13, 12:40 p.m. EDT: The Full Pink Moon. The grass pink or wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and -- among coastal tribes -- the Full Fish Moon, when the shad came upstream to spawn. This is also the Paschal Full Moon; the first full Moon of the spring season. The first Sunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday, which indeed will be observed three days later on Sunday, April 16.
May 13, 2:51 a.m. EDT: The Full Flower Moon. Flowers are abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.
June 11, 2:03 p.m. EDT: The Full Strawberry Moon. Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.
July 10, 11:02 p.m. EDT: The Full Buck Moon, when the new antlers of buck deer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimes also called the Full Hay Moon.
Aug. 9, 6:54 a.m. EDT: The Full Sturgeon Moon, when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is most readily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because the moon rises looking reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
Sept. 7, 2:42 p.m. EDT: The Full Corn Moon. Corn - an Indian staple -- is now ready for gathering. The Moon will also be at perigee later this day, at 11:00 p.m., at a distance of 221,938 miles/357,175 km. from Earth. As such, this will be the biggest and brightest Full Moon of 2006. Very high tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full Moon. In addition, a rather small (19%) partial lunar eclipse will be visible from Africa, Asia, Australia, and Eastern Europe. Maximum eclipse occurs at 18:51 GMT.
Oct. 6, 11:13 p.m. EDT: The Full Harvest Moon. Always the full Moon occurring nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. In one out of three years, it comes in October and 2006 is one of those years.
Nov. 5, 7:58 a.m. EST: The Full Beaver Moon. Time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. Also called the Frosty Moon.
Dec. 4, 7:25 p.m. EST: The Full Cold Moon; among some tribes, the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also sometimes called the "Moon before Yule" (Yule is Christmas, and this time the Moon is only just before it). The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long and the Moon is above the horizon a long time. The midwinter full Moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low Sun.
Lastly, here are some interesting calendrical facts that the famed Belgian astronomical calculator Jean Meeus has compiled concerning the phases of the Moon.
All are cyclical, the most noteworthy being the so-called Metonic Cycle that was independently discovered by the Greek astronomer Meton (born about 460 B.C.). This is a 19 year cycle, after which time the phases of the Moon are repeated on the same days of the year, or approximately so.
For instance, there is a Full Moon on July 10, 2006. Nineteen years hence, in 2025 there'll be another Full Moon on July 10. Another interesting cycle: after 2 years, the preceding lunar phase occurs on, or very nearly the same calendar date. Thus, in 2008, the First Quarter Moon will occur on July 10. After 8 years, the same lunar phases repeat, but occurring one or two days later in the year. The Greeks called this 8-year cycle the octaeteris. Indeed, in 2014, a Full Moon occurs on July 12.
Finally, in our Gregorian Calendar, 372 years provides an excellent long-period cycle for the recurrence of a particular phase on a given date. Thus, we know with absolute certainty that the same Full Moon that shines down on us on July 10 of 2006 will also be shining on July 10 in the year 2378.
Mark your calendars!
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Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.