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.

A Huge Full Hunter’s Moon Will Light Up The Sky This Weekend

Chayanan/iStock via Getty Images
Chayanan/iStock via Getty Images

This weekend’s full moon will likely draw your eye even more than a regular one does.

Newsweek reports that what’s known as the full hunter’s moon—the first full moon after the harvest moon—will rise right around sunset, making it seem both much larger and more orange than usual. Though you’ll likely be able to spot it from Saturday, October 12 through the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 15, the best time to look up is Sunday night, October 13, when the moon reaches peak fullness.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the hunter’s moon may seem so huge because of a simple trick our eyes play on us called the “moon illusion.” Usually, when the moon is high and far from the horizon, it’s the main thing we see in the sky. Because the sky itself is so unfathomably vast, the moon looks pretty small. The hunter’s moon, however, appears lower in the sky, giving us a chance to view it next to things like trees and buildings. Since the moon is so much larger than those objects, our brains may process it with a better sense of scale.

The reason the hunter’s moon often glows orange is also related to its lower position. The moon is actually closer to us when it’s higher in the sky, so the light it reflects has to travel a shorter distance to reach our eyes, leaving the shorter wavelengths of blue light intact. When the moon is low, the air scatters those short blue wavelengths before they get to us, and only the longer, reddish wavelengths make it through.

Though we don’t know for sure why it’s called a hunter’s moon, The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that it may have once indicated the beginning of prime hunting season, when hunters could easily spot animals in fields that harvesters had just cleared after the previous month’s harvest moon.

And, after the hunter’s moon has come and gone, be sure to catch the full beaver moon in November.

[h/t Newsweek]

The Draconid and Southern Taurid Meteor Showers Peak Tonight and Tomorrow

Eshma/iStock via Getty Images
Eshma/iStock via Getty Images

This week, you have two phenomenal opportunities to see a meteor shower light up the night sky. Here's how to catch a glimpse of the Draconids and Southern Taurids.

When to See the Draconid Meteor Shower

First up is the Draconid shower, which happens annually when Earth crosses the orbit of Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner, and the comet's debris transforms into meteors when it hits Earth’s atmosphere. Draconid refers to the appearance of the meteors near the head of the constellation Draco the dragon. According to EarthSky, the shower is also sometimes referred to as the Giacobinids—after Michel Giacobini, who discovered the comet in 1900.

The shower will peak Tuesday, October 8, into the following morning, and your best chance to spot a few meteors is right at nightfall. USA Today reports that since the meteors will be competing with the light from the moon, you should focus your gaze on an empty patch of sky.

When Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner reaches its closest point to the sun, or perihelion, the number of meteors can sometimes reach the hundreds or even thousands. Since its most recent perihelion was just last year—and its next one won’t come until 2025—EarthSky predicts that this year’s orbital intersection will produce just about five meteors per hour.

When to See the Southern Taurid Meteor Shower

If you miss the Draconids’ display on Tuesday night, you can try again on Wednesday at nightfall with the Southern Taurids. Although the Taurids—referring to their proximity to the constellation Taurus—won’t likely amount to many more meteors per hour than the Draconids, the meteors themselves might be more noticeable. According to the American Meteor Society, the Taurids are “rich in fireballs,” which are such large, brilliant meteors that they can even cast shadows on the ground.

And, if the meteors manage to escape your line of sight altogether this week, don’t worry: The Orionid meteor shower is on its way later this month, followed by the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December.

[h/t USA Today]

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