How did the full moons get their names?

Question Answered by Alana Jensen, INL ESER Program

For thousands of years, people in Europe, as well as the North American tribes, named the months after features they associated with the changing seasons and nature. Many of these names are very similar. Most of the Native names came from tribes called the Algonquian people (not to be confused with the Algonquin tribe), who lived in the northern part of the United States from New England to Lake Superior. Today, many of these ancient month names have been adopted as names for the Full Moon of each month.

Since the lunar (“synodic”) month is roughly 29.5 days in length on average, the dates of the full moon shift from year to year.

2020 Full Moon Calendar

Jan. 10: Full Wolf Moon Named after hunting wolves. It was also called the Old Moon by some tribes.

Feb. 9: Full Snow Moon (Some tribes called it the Full Hunger Moon because food was scarce.

Mar. 9: Full Worm Moon because earthworms appear. Some northern tribes called it the Full Crow Moon or Full Crust Moon (melting and refreezing snow).

April 7: Full Pink Moon for wild phlox, an early bloomer. Other names were the Full Sprouting Grass Moon and Full Fish Moon.

May 7: Full Flower Moon Also called the Full Corn Planting Moon.

June 5: Full Strawberry Moon Europeans called it the Rose Moon

July 5: Full Buck Moon Named for newly sprouted deer antlers. Also called the Full Thunder Moon.

Aug. 3: Full Sturgeon Moon Other variations include Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon

Sept. 2: Full Corn Moon or Fruit Moon

Oct. 1: Full Harvest Moon Traditionally, this designation goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. Most years this happens in September, but occasionally as is the case in 2020, it happens in October.

Oct. 31: Full Hunter’s Moon In 2020, this is the second time the Moon turns full in a calendar month, so it is also popularly known as a Blue Moon.

Nov. 30: Full Beaver Moon Also called the Frosty Moon.

Dec. 29: Full Cold Moon Also called the Long Night Moon since nights are at their longest and darkest.

Family Moon Viewing

You will need: binoculars, tripod for binoculars, Moon Map, flashlight with its light covered by red film or tissue paper, blanket, folding chairs (optional), snacks and water, bug repellent, friends

  • Select a safe viewing area that isn’t brightly lit.
  • When viewing the night sky, it is important that your eyes adapt to the dark. Having bright, white light flashlights to find your way around or look at the Moon Map keeps your eyes from adapting. The solution? Cover your flashlight with red film or tissue paper! That will still help you navigate and read, but won’t disrupt your night vision.
  • Binoculars will help you see some of the remarkable features of our Moon in vivid detail. A tripod will keep the Moon‘s feature in view so the whole family can see what you’re looking at.
  • At every phase except the Full Moon, you will see the Moon’s face divided into a bright sunlit side and a shadow side. The line dividing these is the terminator. Features on the Moon (like the mountainous crater rims) stand out best at the terminator. As you move into the sunlit side away from the terminator, the landscape looks much smoother. The landscape near the terminator stands out because the Sun is near the lunar horizon. Like features on Earth at sunset, the features on the Moon cast long shadow that enhance the impression of height.

From NASA Science: This activity and more at Moon Viewing Ideas for the Whole Family!

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