Full moon names were bestowed by the Native Americans of what isnow the northern and eastern United States. A few hundred yearsago, those tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring fullmoon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.
There were some variations in the moon names, but in generalthe same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England onwest to Lake Superior. European settlers followed their own customs and createdsome of their own names. Since the lunar ("synodic") month is roughly29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year toyear.
Here is a listing of all the full moon names, as well as thedates and times for 2008. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the EasternTime Zone.
Jan. 22, 8:35 a.m. EST — Full Wolf Moon. Amid the zero cold and deepsnows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Itwas also known as the Old Moon or the moon after Yule. In some tribes this wasthe Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next moon.
Feb. 20, 10:30 p.m. EST — Full Snow Moon. Usually the heaviest snowsfall in this month. Hunting becomes very difficult, and hence to some tribesthis was the Full Hunger Moon. This is also the night of a TotalLunar Eclipse. North and South Americans will have a ringside seat for thisevent and will take place during convenient evening hours. Observers in westernEurope and western Africa will see this eclipse from start to finish during themorning hours of February 21.
Mar. 21, 2:40 p.m. EDT — Full Worm Moon. In this month the groundsoftens 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 ofcrows signals the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon because the snow coverbecomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full SapMoon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. This isalso the Paschal Full Moon; the first full moon of the spring season. The firstSunday following the Paschal Moon is Easter Sunday, which indeed will beobserved two days later on Sunday, March 23. This will, in fact, be theearliest Easter since 1913.
Apr. 20, 6:25 a.m. EDT — Full Pink Moon. The grass pink or wild groundphlox is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names werethe Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and — among coastal tribes — theFull Fish Moon, when the shad came upstream to spawn.
May 19, 9:11 p.m. EDT — Full Flower Moon. Flowers are abundanteverywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.Since the moon arrives at apogee less than 12 hours later, this will also bethe smallest full moon of 2008. In terms of apparent size, it will appear 12.3percent smaller than the full moon of Dec. 12.
Jun. 18, 1:30 p.m. EDT — Full Strawberry Moon. Known to everyAlgonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.
Jul. 18, 3:59 a.m. EDT — Full Buck Moon, when the new antlers of buckdeer push out from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also oftencalled the Full Thunder Moon, thunderstorms being now most frequent. Sometimesalso called the Full Hay Moon.
Aug. 16, 5:16 p.m. EDT — Full Sturgeon Moon, when this large fish ofthe Great Lakes and other major bodies of water like Lake Champlain is mostreadily caught. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because the moonrises looking reddish through sultry haze, or the Green Corn Moon or GrainMoon. There will be a Partial Lunar Eclipse that will be visiblefrom Europe, Africa and the western two-thirds of Asia with this full moon. Atits maximum 81 percent of the moon's diameter will become immersed in theEarth?s dark umbral shadow.
Sep. 15, 5:13 a.m. EDT — Full Harvest Moon. Traditionally, thisdesignation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal (fall)Equinox. The Harvest Moon usually comes in September, but (on average) aboutevery three or four years it will fall in early October. At the peak of theharvest, farmers can work into the night by the light of this moon. Usually thefull Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the fewnights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same timeeach night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, andwild rice — the chief Indian staples — are now ready for gathering.
Oct. 14, 4:02 p.m. EDT — Full Hunters' Moon. With the leaves fallingand 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, along withother animals, which have come out to glean and can be caught for athanksgiving banquet after the harvest.
Nov. 13, 1:17 a.m. EST — Full Beaver Moon. Time to set beaver trapsbefore the swamps freeze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Anotherinterpretation suggests that the name Beaver Full Moon come from the fact thatthe beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. Also called theFrosty Moon.
Dec. 12, 11:37 a.m. EST — Full Cold Moon; amongsome tribes, the Full Long Nights Moon. In this month the winter cold fastensits grip, and the nights are at their longest and darkest. Also sometimescalled the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriatename because the midwinter night is indeed long and the moon is above thehorizon a long time. The midwinter full moon takes a high trajectory across thesky because it is opposite to the low Sun. The moon will also be at perigeelater this day, at 5:00 p.m. EST, at a distance of 221,560 mi. (356,566 km.)from Earth. Very high oceantides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full moon.
- Full Moon Fever
- Moon Phases: How It Works
- Sky Calendar & Moon Phases
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 otherpublications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.