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July's full 'Buck Moon' wows skywatchers despite lackluster lunar eclipse

Macy's fireworks go off on the top of the Empire State Building as the full buck moon rises in the sky on July 4, 2020 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. (Image credit: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Some skywatchers may have seen more than mere fireworks in the night sky during their Fourth of July celebrations on Saturday: the full moon.

Overnight on Saturday and Sunday (July 4 and 5), July's full "Buck Moon" dipped through the outermost edges in a penumbral lunar eclipse. While the lunar eclipse was subtle and difficult to see — one eclipse expert said it would "invisible" — the full moon was still a spectacular sight for skywatchers around the world. 

This weekend's eclipse was the third of four penumbral lunar eclipses in lunar eclipses. During a lunar eclipse, Earth comes between the moon and the sun, and the three align exactly (or almost exactly.) Because of this alignment, Earth casts a shadow on the moon's face. 

Related: Lunar eclipse 2020 guide: When, where & how to see them

In a total lunar eclipse, the moon is complete in Earth's shadow and can take on a blood-red hue. But during a penumbral lunar eclipse, only the diffuse outer shadow of the Earth, known as the penumbra, falls onto the face of the moon. This means  the darkening effect is very slight. 

You can see how imperceptible the effect was in July's lunar eclipse in the photos of July's full Buck Moon below.

The full Buck Moon of July 2020 rises over the Empire State Building in New York City, United States on July 4, 2020 (Image credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

All lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full. Interestingly enough, during eclipses (but also during every full and new moon), gravitational forces on Earth are particularly strong because of the sun's influence when it aligns with the moon and our planet. That makes our planet's oceans bulge and causes high tides to be higher and low tides to be lower. 

After this weekend's firework-filled eclipse fun, the next lunar eclipse, which will also be a penumbral eclipse, will be this fall, on Nov. 29-30.

While this weekend's lunar eclipse was nearly imperceptible for many us, it was theoretically visible to people in Southern and Western Europe, most of Africa, most of North America, South America, the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions and Antarctica. Those in the U.S. may have even spotted the eclipse while looking up to enjoy fireworks displays, as the lunar eclipse fell on July 4, which is Independence Day in the country. 

The eclipse's many nicknames come from a variety of sources. Penumbral lunar eclipses that occur in July are given the "Thunder Moon" moniker, which comes from the summer storms that happen around the time of July's full moon, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Indigenous American tribes have also called this moon the "Buck Moon" because this event also usually coincides with the time when male deer begin to grow new, velvety antlers. Some also know it as the "Hay Moon" because it usually comes at a time when farmers are stocking their barns with hay, according to Earthsky.org

Also, in addition to simply looking up, enjoying the sight and learning more about our rocky satellite, throughout history, many cultures around the world have adopted customs in accordance with lunar eclipses. For example, many have viewed lunar eclipses as times or portents of danger. 

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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