The full moon will be joined by a few guests this month.
The full moon of February, called the Snow Moon, will occur in the eastern U.S. at 1:28 p.m. (1828 GMT) on Sunday (Feb. 5), per the U.S. Naval Observatory. In New York City the moon rises at 5:10 p.m. — about eight minutes before sunset, so the just-past-full moon and the sun will share the sky.
The moon will be in the constellation Leo, and just after midnight at 12:36 a.m. on Feb. 6 will reach a maximum elevation of 67.6 degrees in New York — the moon's altitude will be similar in other mid-northern latitude locations at the same local time. As one moves south the elevation rises — in Miami the moon's altitude at 1:02 a.m. on Feb. 6 will be 82 degrees.
Full moons happen when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. Timing of lunar phases depends on the moon's position, rather than the observer's, which means that the hour when the moon is full depends on one's time zone. So if you live in Madrid (six hours ahead of New York City) the full moon occurs at 7:28 p.m., which happens to be just after moonrise at 6:18 p.m. local time. In Melbourne, Australia, the full moon occurs at 5:28 a.m. on Feb. 6, about an hour before it sets at 6:35 a.m. Melbourne is in the mid-southern latitudes, and it is summer there, so on the night of Feb. 5-6 the moon reaches a maximum altitude of only 30 degrees, at 1:33 a.m. local time Feb. 6.
While an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes, full moons can be almost disappointing — the moon is so bright that the surface loses contrast. That is because there are no shadows — we are seeing the lunar surface at noontime on the moon, so the sun (from the perspective of a person standing on the moon) is directly overhead. That said, moon filters are available that can make some features stand out. If one waits a few days after the full moon or observes a few days before, shadows bring out more detail.
If you're interested in taking photographs of the full Snow Moon, check out our helpful how to photograph the moon guide for the best lunar photography tips and tricks. We also have guides to the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography if you need to gear up for this or other celestial events.
One interesting phenomenon, unique to the moon, is that there are days just ahead of the full moon when the moon doesn't cross the meridian, the line in the sky drawn from due north to south that goes through the zenith. This happens because the moon (against the background stars) appears to move approximately one of its own diameters every hour. In a 24-hour day, it moves about 13 degrees. Essentially, the moon takes about 25 hours to make a complete circuit of the sky, whereas other celestial bodies take 24. (While the solar system planets also move against the background stars, the difference in position from one day to the next is too small to have this effect).
From New York City, on Feb. 5, the moon won't cross the meridian. From Miami or Melbourne, it's on Feb. 4, The difference in date has to do with the moon's altitude and one's longitude. While the phase of the moon doesn't depend on the observer's location, the apparent position of the moon in the sky does; the moon is close enough to Earth that an observer in Melbourne and other in London will see an appreciable difference in the moon's position against the background stars.
On the evening of the full moon, observers in the mid-northern latitudes will see Jupiter and Mars in the sky towards the south. In New York, by about 6 p.m. local time one can see Venus about 14 degrees high in the west-southwest. Venus is bright; it may well be one of the first "stars" to come out. The planet sets at 7:24 p.m. Above and to the left of Venus is Jupiter. By about 7 p.m. local time Jupiter is in the southwest, at an altitude of about 26 degrees, and the planet will set by 9:29 p.m. If Venus has set one can find Jupiter by looking for the bright, yellow-white "star" to the right as one faces due south (putting the sunset on your right). Jupiter is bright enough that even from city locations it is distinct.
Mars, meanwhile, by 7 p.m. is more than two thirds of the way to the zenith at 73 degrees high almost due south; one will see it paired with another reddish star, Aldebaran, in Taurus. Aldebaran will be (from the Northern Hemisphere) below Mars and a paler orange-white, compared with Mars which usually appears much more red.
From austral latitudes Mars and Jupiter will also be prominent but lower in the sky; the sun sets in Melbourne at 8:29 Feb. 5, and that evening by about 9:30 p.m. Jupiter is 14 degrees high just north of the western horizon. Mars, meanwhile, is just west of the northern horizon, below Aldebaran (as opposed to above it as in the Northern skies). Venus is an "evening star" but will be largely lost in the solar glare at sunset.
Keen-eyed observers with a clear eastern horizon can try and catch Mercury, which rises at 5:48 a.m. in New York on Feb. 6; the sun comes up at 7:02 a.m., so with the right conditions one might be able to see it before it gets lost in the solar glare, but a half hour before sunrise the planet is only 5 degrees high. It's important to be very careful when observing planets close to the sun; looking through any kind of optical aid such as binoculars or a long camera lens can result in permanent damage and even blindness if one accidentally points them near the sun itself.
As one moves further south Mercury gets higher. For example in Miami, where sunrise is at 7:01 a.m., Mercury will be about 10 degrees high by about 6:30 a.m. local time. Getting nearer the equator, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, (where the full moon occurs at 2:28 p.m. local time on Feb. 5) the sun rises at 6:56 a.m. Feb. 6 while Mercury rises at 5:28 a.m., and by 6:30 a.m. the planet is a full 12 degrees high.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury is still higher in the sky — on Feb. 6 in Melbourne Mercury rises at 4:40 a.m. local time and sunrise isn't until 6:37 a.m., which means that by 6 a.m. the planet is 14 degrees high just south of east.
The full moon shares the sky with a number of bright winter constellations. During February Orion is visible almost all night, starting the evening high in the east-southeast. Near Orion are Taurus and Gemini, and just to the southeast of Orion is Canis Major, the Big Dog, home to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. All three constellations are bright enough that they don't get overwhelmed by the full moon, even in urban areas.
Southern Hemisphere observers will see Centaurus and Crux high in the south in the hours after sunset, showcasing Rigil Kentaurus (otherwise known as Alpha Centauri). As one looks above those two constellations one can see the three that make up the legendary Argo — Puppis, Vela and Carina. Canopus, the alpha star of Carina, is will be 75 degrees high by about 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 in mid-southern latitudes.
According to the Ontario Native Literacy Project, the Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) peoples called it Mikwa Giizis, the Bear Moon. The Cree called it the Kisipisim, or the Great Moon, "animals do not move around much, and trappers have little chance of catching them."
The Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest call the February full moon S'eek Dís, or Black Bear Moon, while the Haida called it Hlgit'ún Kungáay, or "Goose moon," according to the Tlingit Moon and Tide Teaching Resource published by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
In the southern hemisphere, February is a summer month, and the Māori of New Zealand described the lunar month in January to February (as measured between the successive new moons, with the full moon halfway between) as Hui-tanguru, or "the foot of Ruhi now rests upon the Earth," according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ruhi is a star in Scorpio, but to some Māori it forms a bow, rather than a scorpion.
In China, the traditional lunar calendar calls the February lunation the first month, Zhēngyuè, and it is when the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated. In 2023 the night of the full moon (as seen in Beijing) falls on Feb. 6 at 2:28 a.m., a day after the Lantern Festival, which marks the high point of the traditional Chinese New Year festivities, and many Chinese diaspora communities celebrate it also.