Full Moons of 2015: Their Names and Meanings

xpedition 42 Sees Full Moon Setting
Astronaut Terry Virts took this image of the full moon setting from the ISS. (Image credit: NASA/Terry Virts)

While most full moons of the year look similar, they each have unique names.

Full moon names date back to Native Americans, living in 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 used among 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 month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year. [10 Stargazing Events in 2015]

Here are the names, dates and times of every full moon in 2015:

Full Wolf Moon, Jan. 4, 11:53 p.m. EST (0453 Jan. 5 GMT) — Amid the freezing 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, however, most applied that name to the next moon.

Full Snow Moon, Feb. 3, 6:09 p.m. EST (2309 GMT) — Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month each year. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.

Full Worm Moon, March 5, 1:05 p.m. EST (1805 GMT) — 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.

Full Pink Moon, April 4, 8:06 a.m. EDT (1206 GMT) —The wild ground phlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this moon 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 month will also feature a total lunar eclipse, which is set to occur early in the morning with the duration of totality lasting less than 5 minutes. Across the eastern half of the United States, the moon will appear to set while it is progressing into the Earth’s dark shadow.

From Minnesota south to Louisiana, the moon will set during the very short total phase, while for much of the western United States the moon will be exiting the umbra when it sets. 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 the very next day on Sunday, April 5.

Full Flower Moon, May 3, 11:42 p.m. EDT (0342 May 4 GMT) —Flowers are abundant everywhere in May. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

Full Strawberry Moon, June 2, 12:19 p.m. EDT (1519 GMT) — Europeans called it the Rose Moon.

Full Buck Moon, July 1, 10:20 p.m. EDT (1420 GMT) —In July, 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 it is also called the Full Hay Moon. [See amazing photos of a total lunar eclipse]

Blue Moon, July 31, 6:43 a.m. EDT (1043 GMT) — The second full moon occurring within a calendar month is usually given this title. Although the name suggests that to have two full moons in a single month is a rather rare occurrence, it actually occurs once about every three years on average.

Full Sturgeon Moon, Aug. 29, 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT) —In August, the large sturgeon 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. Other names are the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon. 

Full Harvest Moon, Sept. 27, 10:50 p.m. EDT (1450 GMT) —The Full Harvest Moon is always the full moon occurring nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice — the chief Indian staples — are now ready for gathering.

A total lunar eclipse will be visible in its entirety across the eastern half of North America this month. The eclipse will already be in progress at moonrise across the western half of the country. The U.S. West Coast will see most of the moon within the dark umbra of Earth as it rises. Canada’s Pacific Coast will see the moon in total eclipse at moonrise. This will also be the largest full moon of 2015, as it will also be at perigee later this day, at 7:00 a.m., at a distance of 221,753 miles (356,877 kilometers) from Earth.

Full Hunter’s Moon, Oct. 27, 8:05 a.m. EDT (1205 GMT) —With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox as well as the other animals that have come out to glean — all of which can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest.

Full Beaver Moon, Nov. 25, 5:44 p.m. EST (2244 GMT) — 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. It is also called the Frosty Moon.

Full Cold Moon, Dec. 25, 6:11 a.m. EST (1111 GMT) —Among some tribes, this moon was called the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month, the winter cold fastens its grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. It is 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.

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Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Joe Rao
Skywatching Columnist

Joe Rao is Space.com's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.