• The Next Full Moon is the Snow/Hunger Moon

    Appropriate, eh? Read on for what to look for over the next four weeks through the long winter nights. As always, this is the work of Gordon Johnston — thanks, Gordon!

    The Next Full Moon is on Saturday evening, January 26, 2013.  The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun a little before midnight Saturday evening, at 11:38 pm EST.  In UTC or GMT, this corresponds to 4:38 on Sunday morning, January 27, 2013, so most commercially-produced calendars show this full Moon on Sunday.

    The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Friday evening through Monday morning (making this a full Moon weekend).  As usual, the wearing of suitably celebratory and celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

    Although it may not seem like it this year (for the US east coast, at least), this is the Snow Moon or the Hunger Moon.  Full Moon names come from the Native American tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States.  The second full Moon of Winter (usually in February) was known as the Snow Moon because of the heavy snows that fall in this season.  Bad weather and heavy snows made hunting difficult, so this Moon was also called the Hunger Moon.

    Some tie the names of the Moons to the month they occur in rather than their seasonal order (even though the Native Americans who gave us these names would not have know about our calendar before Europeans arrived). Because this Moon is in January, many give this Moon the name of last month’s Moon, calling it the Wolf Moon.

    In the Hebrew or Jewish calendar the months start with the new Moon and the days start and end with sunset.  The holiday Tu B’Shevat, also known as the New Year for Trees, starts at sundown on January 25 and ends at sundown on January 26, 2013.  Tu B’Shevat means the 15th day of the month of Shevat, and most of the time the 15th day of a lunar month falls on the day of the full Moon (and always close enough that the Moon appears full).

    This is the time of year when (for the northern hemisphere, at least) the evening sky is full of bright stars.  Our Sun is on the inner edge of one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, and as we look up in the evenings we are looking away from the center of the galaxy but towards the densely packed stars of this spiral arm.  After sunset this band of bright stars sweeps across our sky from the southeast to the northwest.  The bright planet Jupiter also is appearing in the evening sky.  Jupiter was at its brightest and closest to the Earth for this cycle back in early December 2012, and over the coming months will appear to be growing fainter as its distance from the Earth increases.  Taking over for Jupiter the bright planet Saturn will appear to increase in brightness as it draws closer to Earth, with Saturn’s closest approach to Earth occurring in late April, 2013.  For the Washington, DC area, on the day of the January full Moon, Saturn will rise at around 1 am EST, by the time of the February full Moon Saturn will be rising at about 11 pm EST).

    As to specific celestial events between now and the full Moon after next:

    * As mentioned above, the full Moon will be on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

    * on Sunday morning, February 3, 2013, the waning half Moon and the bright planet Saturn will appear within about 4 degrees of each other. For the Washington, DC area, Saturn will rise at at 12:32 am EST and the Moon will rise about five minutes later, at 12:37 am EST, both in the east-southeast.  They will be at their highest in the sky just before 6 am EST (5:52 am for Saturn and 5:55 am for the Moon), about 15 minutes before the sky begins brightening with dawn.

    * Later on Sunday, February 3, 2013, will be the Moon’s last quarter.

    * The new Moon will be on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

    * On Friday evening, February 15, 2013, the asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface or our planet, closer to the Earth than our geostationary satellites.  According to the data on NASA’s Near Earth Object Program website at URL http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/ this asteroid has a diameter somewhere between 36 and 80 meters (120 to 260 feet) and will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface of the Earth.

    * Saturday, February 16, 2013, Mercury at greatest elongation (greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth), visible just after sunset.  To see Mercury you will need a clear view of the horizon halfway between west and west-southwest.  By the time the sky darkens and twilight ends (around 6:45 pm EST for the Washington, DC area), Mercury will be only about 5 or 6 degrees above the horizon and only about 1/2 hour from setting itself (setting at 7:18 pm EST for the Washington, DC area).

    * On Sunday afternoon, February 17, 2013, the waxing half Moon will reach its first quarter.

    * That evening, Sunday, February 17, 2013, The waxing half Moon, the close cluster of stars known as M24 or the Pleiades, and the bright planet Jupiter will form a triangle, all separated by about 6 degrees.  As the night progresses, the Moon will appear to shift closer to Jupiter.  For the Washington, DC area, at least, the Moon will set in the west-northwest around 1:30 am EST on Monday morning, February 18, 2013, and Jupiter will set about 20 minutes later.

    * By Monday evening, February 18, 2013, the waxing gibbous Moon will shift to appear about 7 degrees to the other side of Jupiter, with the bright star Aldebaran below and about half-way between. As the evening progresses Jupiter and the Moon will appear to drift farther apart, with Jupiter (and Aldebaran) setting Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, in the west-northwest around 1:45 am EST, and the Moon setting 35 minutes later.

    * The full Moon after next will be on Monday, February 25, 2013.