Full moons are nothing new. They occur every 28 days like clockwork!
A full moon happens when the sun and the moon are directly opposite of one another. As a result, the sun can cast its light on the entire lunar surface we see. It creates a bright and intense glow that lasts for two or three days. Everyone can enjoy the same full moon thanks to its synchronous rotation!
Most of us are familiar with the coming and going of lunar phases. But, the unique names to signify specific full moon occurrences are lesser-known!
Full moons played an essential role in ancient cultures the world over. Our ancestors didn’t have clocks and traditional calendars. Instead, they relied on the moon to understand the changing seasons and nature. Back then, it was common to track seasonal shifts using lunar calendars. Traditional solar calendars we use today weren’t around. Thus, esoteric names were born.
The first full moon to occur during the year is the Wolf Moon!
What is a Wolf Moon?
The Wolf Moon is the name given to the first full moon of the year. The exact origins of this title are a bit fuzzy. One common belief is that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon lunar calendar. The Old Farmer’s Almanac began publishing these names in Maine during the 1930s.
But the unique thing about the Full Wolf Moon is that it’s present in many different cultures! Historians believe it originated with Native Americans. More specifically, it’s attributed to Algonquin tribes from what is now the Northeastern parts of North America. But even then, the name quickly spread to other tribes. It’s even referenced in documents from old Europeans and Colonial Americans.
So, why is it called the Wolf Moon?
Before widespread colonization, wild wolves ran rampant throughout the continent. Native American settlements were never too far from these canines. That’s why those cultures revered wolves.
In January, the intense howling of wolves became ever-present. Traditionally, humans thought wolves howled louder due to hunger during the winter. That old trope of wolves howling at the moon only cemented those ideologies even further.
Of course, we now know that wolves don’t howl at the moon. They use it for communication, marking territory, and hunting. Nonetheless, the name stuck!
The Wolf Moon wasn’t just about keeping track of time. It also held significant cultural values. As the first full moon of the year, it represented new beginnings. It comes after the winter solstice and symbolizes new dawn and the victory of light over darkness! After a harsh winter of long and cold nights, it was a welcome sight that ushered in a new year of prosperity.
Depending on who you ask, you might also hear people calling the January full moon other names. It was called the Old Moon, the Spirit Moon, the Ice Moon, the Snow Moon, or the Moon After Yule in some cultures.
Generally, the Wolf Moon moniker is the most widely adopted. It’s just one of many nicknames for the Lunar calendar. Some other examples include the Cold Moon in December, the Pink Moon in April, or the Harvest Moon in September.
When is the Next Full Wolf Moon?
The next Wolf Moon will occur on January 28th, 2021. Officially, the moon will have full illumination starting at 2:18 PM Eastern Time. However, you’ll have to wait a few more hours to see it rise over the horizon after sunset!
Wolf Moon Eclipses, Supermoons, and Blood Moons
The Wolf Moon occurs every single January. However, you may be lucky enough to view the first moon of the year alongside other lunar phenomena. It can coincide with partial or full lunar eclipses.
In 2020, January’s full moon came with a Penumbral lunar eclipse. According to NASA, it was visible in most of the world. Those in Africa, Europe, and Asia had the best views. People in West Africa got to see it upon moonrise. Meanwhile, those in Australia enjoyed it during moonset.
A Penumbral lunar eclipse happens when the moon passes through the Earth’s outer shadow. This shadow is called the penumbra. It leaves the moon looking slightly tea-stained. It isn’t easy to see with the naked eye, but close observers will undoubtedly notice the subtle color change.
A blood moon is when the lunar satellite is in the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, called the umbra. When this happens, the moon takes on a reddish or rust-colored hue.
The Wolf Moon can also become a supermoon! A supermoon is when the moon is closest to Earth on its elliptical rotation pattern. To qualify as a supermoon, it also has to be a full moon. The impeccable timing creates a bigger and brighter appearance that illuminates the night sky!
If you were lucky enough to stargaze on January 20th or 21st of 2019, you got to see a rare sight. That date hit the lunar phenomena jackpot! It was dubbed the “Super Blood Wolf Moon!”
You can enjoy the Wolf Moon every year sometime in January. The exact dates vary. Lunar phases are shorter than calendar months. But, you can expect the first full moon of the year to be the Wolf Moon. Whip out your telescope and enjoy its glory for yourself!