Astronomy is a fascinating subject in part because it is a scientific pursuit that has been around far longer than humans have actually understood what science really means. And so it became intertwined with our culture from folk wisdom to passionate theological controversy. This has not been true for the more recent scientific niches. I am pretty certain that no expert in fluid dynamics has ever been threatened with torture the way Galileo was for actually observing Jupiter's moons. Of course, what saved astronomy from being forever a religious football was its undeniable commercial value. Good astronomy led to powerful navies and overseas imperial capabilities. Turns out Galileo was the exception—astronomy now has had centuries of public funding and as the pictures from Hubble or the Curiosity Rover demonstrate, this investment means we have gotten very good at astronomy indeed.
But even if you love astronomy for the hard science, it is still fun to remember when folks knew the stars because it was their most accurate way to predict future events. And nothing demonstrates this more than the names we gave to full moons. In the northern hemisphere, calling February's full moon the Hunger Moon tells us much about what surviving winters once meant.
The full moons have names corresponding to the calendar months or the seasons of the yearSome almanacs like to give each month a special full moon name. Other almanacs like to reference full moons relative to seasonal markers, as defined by equinoxes and solstices. Is one way better than the other? No. Both have their roots in folklore.
Everything you need to know: Harvest Moon 2012
Here we list common North American full moon names – first by month – and then by season.
Full moon names by month:
January: Old Moon, or Moon After Yule
February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon
March: Sap Moon, Crow Moon, or Lenten Moon
April: Grass Moon, or Egg Moon
May: Planting Moon, or Milk Moon
June: Rose Moon, Flower Moon, or Strawberry Moon
July: Thunder Moon, or Hay Moon
August: Green Corn Moon, or Grain Moon
September: Fruit Moon, or Harvest Moon
October: Harvest Moon, or Hunter’s Moon
November: Hunter’s Moon, Frosty Moon, or Beaver Moon
December: Moon Before Yule, or Long Night Moon
About once every 19 years, February has no full moon at all. Moreover, in 7 out of every 19 years, two full moons will fall in the same calendar month. The second of the month’s two full moons is popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. The next Blue Moon by this definition will happen on August 31, 2012.
Full moon names by season:
After the December solstice (winter):
Old Moon, or Moon After Yule
Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon
Sap Moon, Crow Moon or Lenten Moon
After the March equinox (spring):
Grass Moon, or Egg Moon
Planting Moon, or Milk Moon
Rose Moon, Flower Moon, or Strawberry Moon
After the June solstice (summer):
Thunder Moon, or Hay Moon
Green Corn Moon, or Grain Moon
Fruit Moon, or Harvest Moon
After the September equinox (autumn):
Harvest Moon, or Hunter’s Moon
Hunter’s Moon, Frosty Moon, or Beaver Moon
Moon Before Yule, or Long Night Moon
There are usually three full moons in between an equinox and a solstice, or vice versa. Seven times in 19 years, four full moons fall in a single season. In that case, the third of a season’s four full moons is also called a Blue Moon. The next Blue Moon by this definition will happen on August 21, 2013. more