If you thought that last night’s full moon appeared to be larger than usual, you’re right. It so happens that all full moons are not created equal. October’s full moon, aka “Hunter’s Moon,” is the largest full moon of the year. There are very technical scientific reasons for this, but the short answer is that the moon is now at the perigee of its orbit around earth, i.e. position closest to earth. Therefore, this month’s full moon, the Hunter’s Moon, is also known as a “supermoon.”
Full moons occur when the earth is located completely between the sun and the moon, and, thus, the moon is fully illuminated by the sun. In popular lore, full moons are often associated with maladies such as insomnia, insanity and other odd behavior (hence, the terms “lunatic” and “lunacy”). However, most psychologists debunk any correlation, although, as most of us know, full moons do affect the tides.
Full moons have actual names, which date back thousands of years. Most every culture had its own set of names, but the ones in most common usage in the US are those of the Algonquin Indians, which inhabited much of present-day New England. Native Americans used full moons to keep track of the seasons, and the names reflect the characteristics of the particular month in which they fall. For those of you interested in such trivia, the names are as follows:
January – Wolf Moon, February – Snow Moon, March – Worm Moon, April – Pink Moon, May – Flower Moon, June – Strawberry Moon, July – Buck Moon, August – Sturgeon Moon, September – Harvest Moon, October – Hunter’s Moon, November – Beaver Moon, December – Cold Moon.
In addition, most of you have heard the name “blue moon,” as in the expression “once in a blue moon.” Basically, a blue moon is an extra full moon. Most seasons have three full moons, one per calendar month. But, since a lunar cycle is only 29 days, on rare occasions a month will have two full moons. This supernumerary full moon is known as a blue moon. The name dates back to the 16th century, although in the US the term became popularized following its publication in the Farmers’ Almanac in the early 19th century.
There is some evidence that the period around a hunter’s moon is beneficial to hunting, particularly, deer hunting. For example, the foliage and fields have been thinned out due to the harvest and paucity of leaves on the trees, thus enhancing animals’ visibility to hunters. Secondly, the brightness of the hunter’s moon makes it easier to see prey. Thirdly, the does tend to be in “heat” during full moons. Therefore, bucks and does are more apt to congregate and be easier to find. Finally, the bucks employ rubbing and scraping noises to attract does, which may tip off the hunters as to their location. Realizing this, many hunters swear by hunting according to the moon’s cycle.
For all of you “skygazers” the “supermoon” will be visible for the next few nights, but it will peak tonight. The moon will appear to be approximately 16% larger than the average full moon and 30% larger than the smallest. Because of the proximity of the moon to earth (“just” 222,365 miles) it will be the largest full moon visible so far this century.