Full moon names date back to Native Americans living 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 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.
Here is a listing of all of the full moon names as well as the dates and times for 2020. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern Time Zone.
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Jan. 10: Full Wolf Moon
2:21 p.m. EST (1921 GMT)
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. In addition, much of the Eastern Hemisphere will experience a deep penumbral lunar eclipse with lower part of the moon appearing somewhat darker.
Feb. 9: Full Snow Moon
2:33 a.m. EST (0733 GMT)
Usually the heaviest snows fall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribes this was the Full Hunger Moon.
March 9: Full Worm Moon
1:48 p.m. EDT (1748 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.
April 7: Full Pink Moon
10:35 p.m. EDT (0235 GMT on April 8)
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 five days later on Sunday, April 12. The moon will also be at perigee eight hours and 35 minutes prior to turning full, at 2 p.m. EDT, at a distance of 221,772 miles (356,907 kilometers) from Earth. Very high ocean tides can be expected from the near-coincidence of perigee with full moon.
May 7: Full Flower Moon
6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT)
Flowers are abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.
June 5: Full Strawberry Moon
3:12 p.m. EDT (1912 GMT)
Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.
July 5: Full Buck Moon
12:44 a.m. EDT (0444 GMT)
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 this is also called the Full Hay Moon.
Aug. 3: Full Sturgeon Moon
11:59 a.m. EDT (1559 GMT)
This time of year, 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. Other variations include the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
Sept. 2: Full Corn Moon
1:22 a.m. EDT (0522 GMT)
Sometimes also called the Fruit Moon; such monikers were used for a Full Moon that occurs during the first week of September, so as to keep the Harvest Moon from coming too early in the calendar.
Oct. 1: Full Harvest Moon
5:05 p.m. EDT (2205 GMT)
Traditionally, this designation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. Most years this happens in September, but occasionally as is the case in 2020, it happens in October. At the peak of the harvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon. Usually the full 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. Since the moon arrives at apogee (its farthest point from Earth) less than two days later, this will also be smallest full moon of 2020. In terms of apparent size, it will appear about 14 percent smaller than the full Moon of April 7.
Oct. 31: Full Hunter's Moon
10:49 a.m. EDT (1449 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, also other animals, which have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest. This is the second time the Moon turns full in a calendar month, so it is also popularly known as a Blue Moon. Full moons occur on average each 29.53 days (the length of the synodic month), or 12.3683 times per year; so months containing two full moons occur on average every 2.72 years, or every 2 years plus 8 or 9 months.
Nov. 30: Full Beaver Moon
4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT)
Now it is time to set beaver traps before the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Moon come from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. This is also called the Frosty Moon. There is also a penumbral lunar eclipse with this full moon; observers across North America might notice the upper part of the moon appearing slightly darker as nearly 83% of the moon's diameter becomes immersed in the fainter penumbral shadow of earth.
Dec. 29: Full Cold Moon
10:28 p.m. EST (0328 GMT on Dec. 30)
December is usually considered the month that the winter cold begins to fasten its grip in the Northern Hemisphere. This month's full moon is also called the Long Night Moon since nights are at their longest and darkest. 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 Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.