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.

The Wolf Moon, 2020’s First Full Moon, Coincides With a Lunar Eclipse

kirstypargeter/iStock via Getty Images
kirstypargeter/iStock via Getty Images

The first full moon—known as the wolf moon, since wolves supposedly howl more during the winter when food is scarce—is going to be a little extra special this year.

What is the wolf moon eclipse?

According to Newsweek, 2020’s wolf moon coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse, which occurs when the moon enters Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra. Because the penumbra is a wider, lighter shadow than the umbra, which is in Earth’s direct wake, this isn’t the most striking type of eclipse. During its peak, the moon will simply appear a little less bright. To see the characteristic reddish-orange “blood moon” of a total lunar eclipse, when the moon does pass into the Earth’s umbra, we’ll have to wait until May 26, 2021.

Where to See the Wolf Moon Eclipse

Since this Friday’s eclipse happens during the day in North and South America, most people in the U.S. won’t be able to catch the show. If you live in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia, however, you can see the moon in all its glorious dimness when the sun sets on Friday, January 10. Forbes reports that the eclipse will begin at 12:07 p.m. EST (5:07 p.m. UTC) and reach maximum eclipse at 2:10 p.m. EST (7:10 p.m. UTC).

If you do live in North or South America, it’s still worth a skyward glance when night falls on January 10—even a regular full moon is pretty spectacular. You’ll get a chance to see a penumbral lunar eclipse for yourself on July 5.

[h/t Newsweek]

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower Is Coming in 2020—Here’s How to See It

Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images
Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images

If your New Year’s resolution is to spend more time appreciating the wonders of space, you won’t have to wait very long to put your plans into action: 2020’s first meteor shower is coming between January 3 and January 4.

According to Inverse, the Quadrantid meteor shower consists of fireball meteors, which shine brighter and bolder than other meteors because they’re made from larger particles of matter. And since the moon won’t be visible during the Quadrantids's peak, the already-bright meteors won’t have to compete with moonlight.

They will, however, have to compete with your habit of being soundly asleep in the middle of the night. The International Meteor Organization predicts that the shower’s peak will occur around 3 a.m. EST on January 4, and only last for about four hours [PDF]. It will take place in the northern part of the sky, so your chances of seeing the shower are better if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.

The meteor shower was named the Quadrantids because its radiant point—or the location in the sky from which the meteors seem to originate—was in a now-obsolete constellation called the Quadrans Muralis, identified in 1795 by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande and then omitted from the International Astronomical Union’s list of constellations in 1922.

Luckily, there are a couple other recognizable landmarks, so to speak, to help you figure out where to direct your gaze come next Friday night. According to EarthSky, the Quadrantids’s updated radiant point is near Arcturus, the brightest star of the Bootes constellation, and it’s also not far from the Big Dipper.

In 2003, astronomer Peter Jenniskens suggested that the Quadrantids’s parent body was the asteroid 2003 EH1, rather than an icy comet like many other meteor showers. Though we don’t know if that’s true, we are pretty sure about one thing: The chance to ring in the new year with a fireball sighting is worth losing a little sleep over.

[h/t Inverse]

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