Full moon names date back to Native Americans, of 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 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. Here is a listing of all of the full moon names, as well as the dates and times for 2009. Unless otherwise noted, all times are for the Eastern Time Zone.
Jan. 10, 10:27 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. The moon will also be at perigee (its closest point to Earth) on this day, at 6:00 a.m. EST, at a distance of 222,138mi. (357,497 km.) from Earth. Very high ocean tides can be expected from the coincidence of perigee with full moon.
Feb. 9, 9:49 a.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.
Mar. 10, 10:38 p.m. EDT -- Full Worm Moon. 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.
Apr. 9, 10:56 a.m. EDT -- Full Pink Moon. 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 three days later on Sunday, April 12.
May 9, 12:01 a.m. EDT -- Full Flower Moon. Flowers are abundant everywhere. It was also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.
Jun. 7, 2:12 p.m. EDT -- Full Strawberry Moon. Known to every Algonquin tribe. Europeans called it the Rose Moon.
Jul. 7, 5:21 a.m. EDT -- Full Buck Moon, 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. Since the moon arrives at apogee less than 13 hours later, this will also be smallest full moon of 2009. In terms of apparent size, it will appear 12-percent smaller than the full moon of Jan. 10
Aug. 5, 8:55 p.m. EDT -- Full Sturgeon Moon, when 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, or the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
Sep. 4, 12:03 a.m. EDT -- Full Corn Moon. 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. 4, 2:10 a.m. EDT -- Full Harvest Moon. Traditionally, this designation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal (fall) Equinox. The Harvest Moon usually comes in September, but sometimes it will fall in early October as is the case in 2009; the next time won't come until 2017. 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.
Nov. 2, 2:14 p.m. EST -- Full Beaver Moon. 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 Full Moon come from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. This is also called the Frosty Moon, and as this is also the next full moon after the Harvest Moon, it can also be referred to as the Hunters' Moon. 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.
Dec. 2, 2:30 a.m. EST -- Full Cold Moon. December is usually considered the month that the winter cold begins to fasten its grip.
Dec. 31, 2:13 p.m. EST -- Full Long Night Moon. 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. 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. There will be a partial lunar eclipse that will be visible from Europe, Africa and Asia with this full moon. At its maximum 7.6-percent of the moon's diameter will become immersed in the Earth’s dark umbral shadow.
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.