A Super Worm Moon Is Coming on the First Day of Spring

iStock.com/Sjo
iStock.com/Sjo

So far, 2019 has been a treat for astronomy fans. The last supermoon (and the brightest one of the year) was visible on February 19, and the next one is set to appear barely a month later on Wednesday, March 20, the first day of spring. Instead of the snow moon that came last month, this upcoming celestial event will be a super worm moon.

What is a supermoon?

A supermoon is defined as the Moon's seemingly larger size when viewed from Earth. The Moon is constantly circling our planet, and its apparent size in the night sky changes depending on where it is in its oval-shaped orbit. Its perigee is the point in its orbit that brings it closest to Earth; when the Moon reaches its perigee on a day when it's full, it's officially a supermoon.

Full moons also have different nicknames based on the time of year they occur. Last month's event was a snow moon: the first full moon that appears in February. March's supermoon will be a worm moon. A worm moon is usually the last full moon of winter, and it's named after the earthworms that start wriggling their way through the soil as spring approaches. In this case, the full moon coincides with the vernal equinox—the start of the spring season. The last time a full moon coincided with the first day of spring was March 20, 1981.

When to watch the next supermoon

The best time to catch the next supermoon are the nights of Tuesday, March 19 and Wednesday, March 20. At 2:48 p.m. on Tuesday, the Moon will reach its perigee, and at 8:43 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the Moon will be at its fullest. The Moon will also appear especially close and bright on the days surrounding the spring equinox.

Supermoons have felt like a common occurrence this year, with three appearing in the first three months in 2019. But after the worm moon, they will be much rarer: The next supermoon with a full moon won't happen until 2020. There will, however, be two new moon supermoons in August, but even though the Moon will be at the closest point in its orbit during the events, it won't be visible in the night sky.

How to See the Full Sturgeon Moon on Thursday

Brook Mitchell, Stringer/Getty Images
Brook Mitchell, Stringer/Getty Images

The full moon of every month has a special nickname. Some—like September's harvest moon, December's cold moon, and May's flower moon—have obvious connections to their seasons, while other names are harder to decode. August's sturgeon moon is an example of the latter. It may not be the prettiest lunar title in The Old Farmer's Almanac, but that doesn't mean the event itself on August 15, 2019 won't be a spectacular sight to behold.

What is a Full Sturgeon Moon?

The first (and normally the only) full moon that occurs in August is called a sturgeon moon. The name may have originated with Native American tribes living around the Great Lakes in the Midwest and Lake Champlain in New England. These bodies of water contain lake sturgeon, a species of freshwater fish that grows up to 6.5 feet in length and can live 55 years or longer. August's full moon was dubbed the sturgeon moon to reflect its harvesting season. This full moon is sometimes called the green corn moon, the grain moon, and the blackberry moon for similar reasons.

When to See the Full Sturgeon Moon

On Thursday, August 15, the full sturgeon moon will be highly visible around sunrise and sunset. The satellite will be 99.9 percent illuminated by the sun when it sets Thursday morning at 5:57 a.m EDT—just nine minutes before dawn. On the West Coast, the setting moon will coincide perfectly with the rising sun at 6:15 a.m. PDT.

If you aren't interested in getting out of bed early to catch the sturgeon moon, wait until Thursday evening to look to the horizon. Twenty-seven minutes after sunset, the full moon will rise on the East Coast at 8:21 p.m. EDT. On the West Coast it rises at 8:10 p.m. PDT, 30 minutes after the sun sets.

The moon generally looks bigger and brighter when it's near the horizon, so twilight and dawn are ideal times to catch the spectacle. But it's worth taking another peek at the sky closer to midnight Thursday night; the Perseid meteor shower is currently active, and though the light of the moon may wash them out, you're most likely to spot a shooting star in the late night and early morning hours.

A Full Harvest Moon Is Coming in September

suerob/iStock via Getty Images
suerob/iStock via Getty Images

The Old Farmer's Almanac lists a special name for every month's full moon, from January's wolf moon to December's cold moon. Even if you're just a casual astronomy fan, you've likely heard the name of September's full moon. The harvest moon is the full moon that falls closest to the fall equinox, and it's associated with festivals celebrating the arrival of autumn. Here's what you need to know before catching the event this year.

What is a harvest moon?

You may have heard that the harvest moon is special because it appears larger and darker in the night sky. This may be true depending on what time of night you look at it, but these features are not unique to the harvest moon.

Throughout the year, the moon rises on average 50 minutes later each night than it did the night before. This window shrinks in the days surrounding the fall equinox. In mid-latitudes, the moon will rise over the horizon only 25 minutes to 30 minutes later night after night. This means the moonrise will occur around sunset several evenings in a row.

So what does this mean for the harvest moon? If you're already watching the sunset and you catch the moonrise at the same time, it will appear bigger than usual thanks to something called the moon illusion. It may also take on an orange-y hue because you're gazing at it through the thick filter of the Earth's atmosphere, which absorbs blue light and projects red light. So if you've only seen the full harvest moon around sunset, you may think it always looks especially big and orange, while in reality, any full moon will look that way when it's just above the horizon.

When to See the Harvest Moon

This year, the harvest moon will be visible the night of Saturday, September 14—about a week before the fall equinox on September 23. The moon will reach its fullest state at 12:33 a.m. ET—but if you're still convinced it's not a true harvest moon without that pumpkin-orange color, you can look for it at moonrise at 7:33 p.m. on September 13.

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