The first full moon of 2013 will light up the night sky tonight (Jan. 26), but did you know it's a full moon of many names?
Full moon names date back to Native American tribes of a few hundred years ago who lived in what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes 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 used 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 (or "synodic") month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year.
Here is a listing of all of the full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2013. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern time zone:
Jan. 26, 11:38 p.m. EST —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. [Full Moon: Why Does It Happen? (Video)]
Feb. 25, 3:26 p.m. EST —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 27, 5:27 a.m.
In 2013, 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 four days later on Sunday, March 31.
April 25, 3:57 p.m.
May 25, 12:25 a.m.
June 23, 7:32 a.m.
July 22, 2:16 p.m. EDT—Full Buck Moon: Named for 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 now being most frequent. Sometimes it's also called the Full Hay Moon.
Aug. 20, 9:45 p.m.
Sept. 19, 7:13 a.m.
Usually the moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice — the chief Indian staples — are now ready for gathering.
Oct. 18, 7:38 p.m.
A penumbral lunar eclipse will also take place. Perhaps for some minutes centered on the time of greatest eclipse (7:50 p.m. EDT) might the penumbra be marginally detectable over the moon’s southernmost limb; for at that moment the penumbral magnitude will reach 76.5 percent. Those living across the eastern half of North America might see some evidence of this faint penumbral shading soon after local moonrise.
Nov. 17, 10:16 a.m. EST —Full Beaver Moon: At this point of the year, it's 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 came from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. It's also called the Frosty Moon.
Dec. 17, 4:28 a.m. EST —Full Cold Moon: On occasion, this moon was also called the Moon Before Yule. December is also the month the winter cold fastens its grip. Sometimes this moon is referred to as the Full Long Nights Moon and the term "Long Night" Moon is a very appropriate name because the nights are now indeed long and the moon is above the horizon a long time. This particular full moon makes its highest arc across the night sky because it's diametrically opposite to the low sun.
Editor's note: If you have an amazing picture of the full moon or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.