Full moons illuminate the sky every month, but why do they have different names?
The Full Worm Moon is pictured over Tbilisi, Georgia on March 28, 2021 CREDIT: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP
Dust off those binoculars and keep your eyes on the skies, as the fourth full moon of 2021 is fast approaching. As one of 12 full moons to admire every year, April's moon was dubbed the Pink Moon by Early Native Americans because pink wildflowers appear in North America in early spring. But when and how can you see it? Here we've compiled a complete guide to the Moon, Earth's only natural satellite and the largest and brightest object in our night sky, which has enchanted and inspired mankind for centuries. From supermoon to blue moon, here's everything explained in one place. When is the next full moon? The next full moon, otherwise known as the Pink Moon, is set to grace our skies on April 27, reaching its official peak at 4:31 am. How often does a full moon occur? A full moon occurs every 29.5 days and is when the Moon is completely illuminated by the Sun's rays. It occurs when the Earth is directly aligned between the Sun and the Moon. While most years see 12 full moons, some years have 13. This means that some months will see two full moons, with the second known as a Blue Moon. In 2020, 13 full moons graced our skies, with the second of two full moons in October named the Blue Hunter's Moon.
Why do full moons have different names? The early Native Americans didn't record time using months of the Julian or Gregorian calendar. Instead, tribes gave each full moon a nickname to keep track of the seasons and lunar months.
Most of the names relate to an activity or an event that took place at the time in each location. However, it wasn't a uniform system and tribes tended to name and count moons differently. Some, for example, counted four seasons a year while others counted five. Others defined a year as 12 moons, while others said there were 13. Colonial Americans adopted some of the moon names and applied them to their own calendar system which is why they're still in existence today, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
April: Pink Moon
April's full moon is known as the Pink Moon, but don't be fooled into thinking it will turn pink. It's actually named after pink wildflowers, which appear in North America in early spring. It is also known as the Egg Moon, due to the spring egg-laying season. Some coastal tribes referred to it as Fish Moon because it appeared at the same time as the shad swimming upstream. The Pink Moon appears during the same month as the Lyrid meteor shower and in 2021, it will also be the first super full moon of the year. When? April 27
The different stages of the total lunar eclipse, also known as the "super blood wolf moon", which took place in January 2019
While the next total lunar eclipse is not set to take place in the UK until May 16, 2022, a partial lunar eclipse will grace our skies on November 19, 2021. This type of eclipse takes place when the Earth moves between the Sun and the full moon, but they do not precisely form a straight line. If weather conditions are in our favor, half of the moon will appear in the sky with a reddish glow. Once in a blue moon Does this well-known phrase have anything to do with the Moon? Well, yes it does. We use it to refer to something happening very rarely and a blue moon is a rare occurrence. A monthly blue moon is a name given to a second full moon that occurs in a single calendar month and this typically occurs only once every two to three years. In 2020, the Hunter's Moon on October 31 was a blue moon because it is the second full moon to occur in October. A seasonal blue moon describes the third of four full moons to occur in an astronomical season. In 2021, the Sturgeon Moon on August 22, will be a seasonal blue moon. There are lots of other moons, too - how many do you know? Full moon: We all know what these are. They come around every month and light up the sky at night. New moon: Sometimes known as the invisible phase, as it generally can't be seen in the sky. It's when the Sun and Moon are aligned, with the Sun and Earth on opposite sides of the Moon. As a result, the side of the Moon that faces the Earth is left in complete darkness. Black moon: Most experts agree that this refers to the second new moon in a calendar month, while some use the term to describe the third new moon in a season of four new moons. The last black moon took place on August 19, 2020. Blood moon: Also known as a total lunar eclipse. It's when the shadow of Earth casts a reddish glow on the moon, the result of a rare combination of an eclipse with the closest full moon of the year. There was one in the UK in January 2019, with the next one set to be visible over South America, North America, and parts of Europe and Africa on May 16, 2022. Space fans in the UK won't be able to see every phase of this eclipse but should be able to see it at totality when the Moon appears with a reddish-orange glow. What is a supermoon? Ever looked up at the night sky to see a full moon so close you could almost touch it? Well, you've probably spotted a supermoon. The impressive sight happens when a full moon is at the point in its orbit that brings it closest to Earth. To us Earth-lings, it appears up to 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger.
The supermoon is not an astrological term though. Its scientific name is actually Perigee Full Moon, but supermoon is more catchy and is used by the media to describe our celestial neighbor when it gets up close.
Astrologer Richard Nolle first came up with the term supermoon and he defined it as "… a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90 percent of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit", according to earthsky.org.
How many supermoons are there in 2021?
Two super full moons are set to grace our skies in 2021, appearing on April 27 and May 26.
Two super new moons will also take place on November 4 and December 4, but we won't be able to see these lunar events as new moons are invisible to the naked eye.
What do I look for?
Head outside at sunset when the Moon is closest to the horizon and marvel at its size. As well as being closer and brighter, the Moon (clouds permitting) should also look orange and red in color.
Why? Well, as moonlight passes through the thicker section of the atmosphere, light particles at the red end of the spectrum don't scatter as easily as light at the blue end of the spectrum.
So when the Moon looks red, you're just looking at a red light that wasn't scattered. As the Moon gets higher in the sky, it returns to its normal white/yellow colour.
Will the tides be larger?
Yes. When full or new moons are especially close to Earth, it leads to higher tides. Tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the Moon and, to a lesser extent, the Sun. Because the Sun and Moon go through different alignments, this affects the size of the tides.
Tell me more about the Moon
The Moon is 4.6 billion years old and was formed between 30-50 million years after the solar system.
It is smaller than Earth - about the same size as Pluto in fact.
Its surface area is less than the surface area of Asia - about 14.6 million square miles according to space.com
Gravity on the Moon is only 1/6 of that found on Earth.
The Moon is not round but is egg-shaped with the large end pointed towards Earth.
It would take 135 days to drive by car to the Moon at 70 mph (or nine years to walk).
The Moon has "moonquakes" caused by the gravitational pull of Earth.
Experts believe the Moon has a molten core, just like Earth.
How was the Moon formed?
Buzz Aldrin Jr. beside the U.S. flag after a man reaches the Moon for the first time during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. CREDIT: AP
Man on the Moon
Only 12 people have ever walked on the Moon and they were all American men, including (most famously) Neil Armstrong who was the first in 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission.
The last time mankind sent someone to the Moon was in 1972 when Gene Cernan visited on the Apollo 17 mission.
Although Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin was the first man to urinate there. While millions watched the Moon Landing on live television, Aldrin was forced to go in a tube fitted inside his spacesuit.
When the astronauts took off their helmets after their moonwalk, they noticed a strong smell, which Armstrong described as “wet ashes in a fireplace” and Aldrin as “spent gunpowder”. It was the smell of moon dust brought in on their boots. The mineral, armalcolite, discovered during the first moon landing and later found at various locations on Earth, was named after the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. An estimated 600 million people watched the Apollo 11 landing live on television, a world record until 750 million people watched the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
How the Daily Telegraph reported Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon in 1969
One of President Nixon’s speechwriters had prepared an address entitled: “In Event of Moon Disaster”. It began: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace.” If the launch from the Moon had failed, Houston was to close down communications and leave Armstrong and Aldrin to their death.