This week sees the rise of the full âCorn Moon,â which will occur at precisely 05:22 UTC on Tuesday, September 2, 2020.
Septemberâs full Moon is traditionally called the âHarvest Moon.â Itâs one of the most famous full Moons of the year that, according to legend, shines brightly all night and allows the farmers to get their crops in late into the night.
âDo you know any farmers who would be getting their crops in under a full Moon?â said Martin Griffiths, a Wales-based science communicator, professional astronomer at Dark Sky Wales and author of Dark Land, Dark Skies: The Mabinogion in the Night Sky. âGenerally they do it during the day!â????
Most of the names we give to full Moons donât make much sense. âTake Februaryâs âWolf Moonâ thatâs supposedly named after howling wolves,â said Griffiths. âWolves howl every month!â????
Heâs right, of course, but why is there confusion about what to call this monthâs fairly well-known full Moon? And what about Octoberâs almost as famous âHunterâs Moon?â????
Septemberâs âmissingâ Harvest Moon is a casualty of the mis-match between the Moonâs orbit and the length of months.
âThe Harvest Moon is traditionally the one closest to the equinox around September 21,â said Griffiths. âMost years thatâs in September, but this year itâs going to be in October.â
âNormally Septemberâs Full Moon is close enough to the equinox to be considered the Harvest Moon, but this year the full Moon is occurring very early in the month, which happens about once every four years,â said Tom Kerss, a British astronomy and science communicator who hosts the weekly Star Signs: Go Stargazing! podcast. âSo it’s technically the Corn Moon, which is a backup name for Septemberâs full moon.â
So this year Septemberâs Harvest Moon becomes the Corn Moon, though happily that doesnât mean Octoberâs full Moon gets similarly âlostâ because there are actually two of them.
So October 1âs full Moon will be the âHarvest Moonâ this year and October 31âs full Moon will be the âHunterâs Moon.â
Oddly, all of this occurs only once in a Blue Moon, which as well as being a famous saying, also happens to be true this year. There are two definitions of a Blue Moon, and both apply in Octoberâso get ready for a âBlue Harvest Moonâ followed by a âBlue Hunterâs Halloween Moon.â
Hang on. What? Why do we do this? As visual spectacle each monthâs full Moon is virtually identical to the last. Is this lunacy?
The trick with a full Moon is to catch it at moonrise or moonset when it’s a muted orange.
The thing is, we donât. Or, at least, we didnât. âWeâve never named the Moon as astronomers,â said Griffiths. âThe names have allegedly come down from North American Indian law, from people who never wrote anything down,â said Griffiths, who insists that heâs prepared to look at historical evidence, but so far he hasnât found any. âWe just canât say that that Native American tribes called the Moon anything during different months.â
Besides, 20 years ago no one was talking of the âWolf Moonâ or the âStrawberry Moonâ; itâs something thatâs been pushed in North America as proof of an old culture, though it probably isnât anything of the sort.
Regardless of the Moon namesâ origins, there are Moon names that are geographically problematic; âStrawberry Moonâ and âHarvest Moonâ sounds delightful to everyone the world over, but âBeaver Moonâ and âSturgeon Moonâ are meaningless to countries without beavers and sturgeon. And yet their names now persist across the globe.
We give the Moon names because we’re fascinated by itâit’s got nothing to do with astronomy.
âTo astronomers these names can be mundane,â said Kerss, who recalls his ex-colleagues at Greenwich Observatory rolling their eyes whenever visitors wanted to discuss the names of the full Moons. âIf it gets people talking about the Moon, looking at the Moon, photographing it and writing social media posts about it then I think the names are a good thingâthey add a bit of magic.â
Full Moon names illicit the same response from astronomers as âsupermoons,â which happen two or three times each year. Astronomers disregard them as faintly astrological and meaningless. Meanwhile, posts about supermoons continue to attract millions of readers. âNames have their own valueâif people go out and watch, and they wouldnât otherwise have done so, then that is a victory for astronomy communicators trying to get people into the subject,â says Kerss.
After all, astronomers donât own the Moonâbillions of people live their lives by the Moon in some way thanks to our historical fascination with it. The dates of countless religious occasionsâincluding Hanukkah, Easter, Divali, Ramadan and Wesakâare all determined by the phases of the Moon. âThe lunar calendars cultural ramifications very far-reachingâwe still live our lives by the Moon,â said Kerss. âIt speaks with our ancient relationship with the Moon.â
Names for the full Moon have their place. They add some sparkle and remind us that the Moon belongs to everyone. However, the real magic is in witnessing the rise or set of a full Moonâand you can find out here how, when and where to see the âCorn Moonâ rise and set this week.
I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist interested in space exploration, moon-gazing, exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses,
I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist interested in space exploration, moon-gazing, exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, astro-travel, wildlife conservation and nature. I’m the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and the author of “A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide” (Springer, 2015), as well as many eclipse-chasing guides.
World news – GB – What Happened To The â????Harvest Moon?â???? Why This Weekâ????s Full Moon Has A â????Backupâ???? Name