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May's brilliant full moon joins a giant red star named Antares

The next full Moon will occur on Thursday morning, May 23, 2024, at 9:53 AM EDT. This Moon will be visible from Wednesday night through early Friday evening, appearing full for about three days. 

Known as the “Flower Moon”

May’s full moon goes by the name “Flower Moon” in many cultures. This name has its roots in the natural world and the changes that occur during this time of the year.

Blooming of flowers

The Flower Moon earned its name due to the abundance of flowers that typically bloom in May. As spring reaches its peak in the Northern Hemisphere, many flowers emerge and blossom, painting the landscape with vibrant colors. Wildflowers, in particular, tend to be at their most plentiful during this month.

Native American traditions

Many Native American tribes have long referred to May’s full moon as the Flower Moon. The Algonquin tribes, who inhabited regions from New England to Lake Superior, are credited with coining this name.

They recognized the connection between the full moon and the blooming of flowers, which signaled the arrival of warmer weather and the season of growth.

May’s full moon joins Antares

On Thursday night, the bright star Antares will be so close to the Moon that, in the Washington, DC area, the Moon will pass in front of Antares and block it from view.

However, the brightness of the full Moon will make it difficult to see the star disappear behind it.

Antares is a red supergiant star located in the constellation Scorpius and is one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

Its name means “rival to Mars,” referring to its distinct reddish hue, similar to the appearance of the planet Mars.

This star is classified as an M-type supergiant, notable for its massive size and cool temperature compared to the Sun. 

Antares: The brightest star in Scorpius

Also known as Alpha Scorpii, Antares is a red supergiant star located in the constellation Scorpius. It shines as the brightest star in Scorpius and is the 15th brightest star in the night sky. Antares has a distinctive reddish appearance, earning it the nickname “the heart of the scorpion.”

Size and characteristics

This massive star has a diameter approximately 700 times larger than our Sun, making it one of the largest known stars.

If placed at the center of our solar system, Antares would engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Despite its enormous size, Antares has a relatively low average density, as is typical for red supergiant stars.

Stellar life cycle

Antares is nearing the end of its stellar life cycle. It has exhausted the hydrogen fuel in its core and now fuses heavier elements. This process causes the star to expand and cool, giving it its characteristic red color.

In the future, Antares will likely undergo a supernova explosion, a powerful and luminous event that will mark the end of its existence as a star.

Stellar winds and companion star

The star is also known for its strong stellar winds, which cause it to lose mass at a significant rate. A companion star, Antares B, orbits the main star, but it is difficult to observe due to Antares’ brightness.

Cultural significance

Antares holds cultural significance in various civilizations. Many ancient cultures, such as the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, incorporated the star into their mythologies and astrological traditions.

Its prominence in the night sky and its distinct reddish color have made it an object of fascination for stargazers throughout history.

Names for May’s full moon

The Maine Farmers’ Almanac began publishing “Indian” names for full Moons in the 1930s, and these names are now widely recognized and used. 

Corn Moon 

According to the almanac, the Algonquin tribes of the northeastern United States called the May full Moon the Flower Moon due to the abundance of flowers at this time of year. Other names include the Corn Planting Moon or simply the Corn Moon.

Milk Moon 

An old English name for this Moon is the Milk Moon. In 703 AD, the English monk St. Bede the Venerable wrote that May was called the “Three-Milkings Month,” apparently because cows could be milked three times a day during this period.

Hare’s Moon 

Various sources list the full Moon in May as the Hare’s Moon. In Western traditions, the patterns on the Moon are often seen as the “Man in the Moon,” but many other cultures see a hare or rabbit. Sculptures, images, and tales about Moon-gazing hares abound. 

The Chinese zodiac associates the hare with early March to early April, and the English idiom “mad as a March hare” refers to the European hare’s antics during its March breeding season.  

Some scholars link the hare to the West Germanic spring goddess Ä’ostre, which ties to Easter and the Anglo-Saxon name for April, possibly explaining the origin of the Easter Bunny.

These associations suggest that the Hare’s Moon might have been closer to Easter and the start of spring, rather than always being the May full Moon.

Buddhist holiday

This full Moon corresponds to Vesak, also known as Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima, a holiday traditionally observed by Buddhists in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and Mongolia. 

Sometimes called “Buddha’s Birthday,” Vesak actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvana), and death (Parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha. The date varies depending on the local calendar but usually falls on or near this full Moon.

Cultural celebrations

Many lunar and lunisolar calendars start months on or just after the new Moon, placing the full Moon near the middle of the month. This particular full Moon falls near the middle of the fourth month of the Chinese year of the Dragon. 

In the Hebrew calendar, it is near the middle of Iyar. The 14th of Iyar (just before the full Moon) is Pesach Sheni (Second Passover), for those who were unable to offer the Korban Pesach a month earlier.

In the Islamic calendar, this full Moon is near the middle of Dhu al-Qadah, the eleventh month. Dhu al-Qadah, known as the “Master of Truces,” is one of the four sacred months during which warfare is prohibited except in self-defense.

As usual, it is encouraged to wear suitably celebratory celestial attire in honor of the full Moon, and be sure to take the time to appreciate the flowers and other pleasures of springtime and avoid starting any conflicts.


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