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The "Super Sturgeon Moon" -- tonight's full moon will look huge in the night sky

August 2023 will offer stargazers the opportunity to see two supermoons. First, we have the “Super Sturgeon Moon” on August 1, coupled with the appearance of an elusive blue moon later in August.

A supermoon occurs when the full moon’s orbit positions it nearest to Earth. NASA clarifies that the moon’s path around our planet doesn’t form a perfect circle. Instead, it resembles an extended oval, known as an ellipse. This causes the moon to oscillate between closer and farther distances from our home planet as it completes its orbital cycle.

The moon travels to its farthest point from Earth, known as the apogee, where it sits at an average distance of 253,000 miles away. Conversely, the moon reaches the point known as the perigee, where it is closest to the Earth at roughly 226,000 miles away.

Close approach causes supermoons

It’s at the perigee stage that a supermoon occurs, when the full moon aligns with the moon’s closest approach to Earth. When observed from the Earth, supermoons tend to appear larger and brighter than a regular full moon, although the difference is slight.

This year’s supermoon cycle is particularly special because the four occurrences are happening consecutively. The first of this year’s supermoons appeared on July 3, and the final supermoon of this series will occur on September 29.

The Super Sturgeon Moon 

The first of these, also known as the Sturgeon Moon, will occur on Tuesday, August 1, with the moon reaching its peak at 1:33 p.m. EDT. We call this the “Super Sturgeon Moon” because of the moon’s close proximity to Earth on August 1.

The name “Sturgeon Moon” comes from some Native American groups, primarily those in the Great Lakes region of North America, who found that sturgeon were most abundantly caught during this month.

Sturgeons are prehistoric-looking fish that have been around for over 130 million years. Many species of this fish have developed globally, with some finding a habitat in the Great Lakes. 

Different cultures and societies have different names for the full moons throughout the year. For example, for Algonquins, the August full moon is also referred to as the “Grain Moon”. This is due to the prevalence of grains during the period.

Other names for the August full moon include the Green Corn Moon, the Barley Moon, or the Fruit Moon. These alternate names often reflect the various crops and foods that become ripe and ready to harvest during this time of year.

What is a blue moon?

The term blue moon does not refer to the moon’s color but rather to its frequency. A blue moon is the name given to the second full moon that occurs within a single calendar month. 

Because a full moon generally appears every 29 days, and as most months are longer than this, comprising 30 or 31 days, it’s possible for two full moons to fall within the same month on occasion. 

Blue moons are infrequent events that usually take place approximately every two and a half years. The most recent blue moon was visible on August 22, 2021.

This year, the month of August is set to play host to two full moons. Excitingly, both of these are also supermoons, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Closest full moon this year

August will wrap up with the appearance of a blue moon on Wednesday, August 30, reaching its peak at 8:36 p.m. EDT. This moon is not only significant for being the second full moon of the month (a blue moon), but is also classified as a supermoon. 

This particular blue moon will be the closest full moon to Earth for the entire year. This adds an extra layer of astronomical intrigue to the event.

Overall, this August promises to be a magnificent time for astronomers and stargazers alike. For anyone planning to observe these lunar events, it’s best to find a location away from city lights for the clearest view. Also, using a telescope or even a good pair of binoculars can enhance the experience. 

For supermoons, since they rise at sunset, looking for a location where you can see the horizon clearly will help you get the best view.

More about supermoons

A supermoon is a natural phenomenon where the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, a point known as perigee. The effect of this coincidence creates a visual spectacle, making the moon appear substantially larger and brighter than usual.

Causes of a supermoon

A supermoon event results from the unique alignment of the Earth, moon, and sun. The moon follows an elliptical orbit around the Earth, which means its distance from our planet changes throughout the month.

At its farthest point, known as apogee, the moon stands around 405,500 kilometers away. Conversely, at perigee, the moon’s closest point to Earth, the distance decreases to approximately 363,300 kilometers.

When the moon reaches perigee at the same time as it becomes a full moon, the result is a supermoon. This is what is coming on August 1, 2023 with the appearance of the “Super Sturgeon Moon”.

This precise alignment creates a slightly larger and brighter moon. Increases are seen of up to 14% in apparent size and up to 30% in brightness compared to a micromoon, the term for a full moon at apogee.

History and naming of the supermoon

The term “supermoon” traces its roots back to astrology rather than astronomy. Astrologer Richard Nolle first coined the term in 1979 to refer to a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is within 90% of its closest approach to Earth.

However, astronomers prefer the term “perigee-syzygy” to describe this celestial alignment, where “syzygy” refers to the alignment of three celestial bodies, in this case, the sun, Earth, and moon.

Cultural significance

The occurrence of a supermoon, including the “Super Sturgeon Moon,” carries significance in various cultures. Many indigenous cultures ascribe special meaning to supermoons, and their appearance often features in folklore and mythology.

In modern times, supermoons tend to draw large numbers of spectators due to their increased brightness and size. They offer unique opportunities for night-time photography and observation.

Frequency and prediction of supermoons

Supermoons are not particularly rare phenomena, occurring roughly three to four times per year. Their predictability stems from the consistent nature of the moon’s orbit and the regularity of the lunar cycle, which spans 29.5 days from one full moon to the next. Scientists can accurately predict the occurrence of supermoons years in advance using mathematical models.

Not all supermoons are equal, though. The size and brightness of a supermoon can vary depending on the exact distance of the moon at perigee and the amount of light it reflects from the sun.

In summary supermoons are a fascinating celestial phenomenon rooted in the intricate dance of celestial mechanics. Their larger, brighter appearance compared to typical full moons has drawn interest from cultures worldwide and continues to captivate observers and photographers alike.

The predictable yet variable nature of supermoons invites ongoing observation and study. They reinforce the enduring allure of our celestial companion, the moon.

More about Super Sturgeon moons

Native American traditions gave rise to the term “Sturgeon Moon”. They used this term to refer to the full moon that typically occurs in August each year. It derives its name from the sturgeon fish. These abundant fish were most plentiful in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain during this period.

History and origin

The naming tradition originates from Native Americans, particularly those located in the northeastern and central United States.

These groups, like the Algonquin, used lunar cycles to track seasons and significant times of the year, rather than the Gregorian calendar. Each month’s full moon received a distinct name that reflected the seasonal changes or associated activities.

The name ‘Sturgeon Moon’ is believed to have been adopted because August was the month when sturgeon fish were most plentiful. The ample presence of this fish made it a crucial resource for many people. Sturgeon fish contributed significantly to their sustenance.

Astronomical significance

The Sturgeon Moon does not have specific astronomical significance in the way that a solar or lunar eclipse would. It does not affect the moon’s appearance or position.

Instead, it carries cultural and historical significance. Like other full moons, the Sturgeon Moon rises in the east around sunset and sets in the west around sunrise.

Other names

While the Sturgeon Moon is the most common name, various groups and cultures have given the August full moon different names. Each name reflects their unique observations and experiences.

For instance, some groups referred to it as the Green Corn Moon, signaling the time when corn was nearing harvest. Others called it the Grain Moon, marking the ripening of other staple crops.

In some regions, it is also known as the Red Moon. This is due to the heat haze of August, which can cause the moon to have a reddish appearance when it rises.

When the Sturgeon Moon is also a supermoon, many people also call it a “Super Sturgeon Moon” because of its close distance to Earth.

Modern observance

Today, many people worldwide recognize and celebrate the full moons using their Native American names, including the Sturgeon Moon. The modern observance is more of a tribute to these ancient cultures and their deep connection to nature.

Astrologers, astronomers, and moon enthusiasts often look forward to the Sturgeon Moon. They document its rise and set times, as well as its position in the sky. In some regions, festivals, events, and rituals are held under the August full moon to honor the old traditions and to celebrate the peak of summer.

In summary, the Sturgeon Moon is a part of the rich tapestry of cultural heritage left behind by Native Americans. These lunar names serve as reminders of a time when humanity’s existence was intimately tied to the rhythms of nature. By acknowledging and celebrating the Sturgeon Moon, modern societies can maintain a connection to this history and the natural world.

More about blue moons

A Blue Moon refers to an unusual occurrence within our lunar calendar. This is most commonly defined as the second full moon within a calendar month. Although the term “Blue Moon” suggests a change in color, a Blue Moon retains its normal whitish hue. This article will delve into the origin of the term, how it’s calculated, its frequency, and cultural significance.

Origin and definition of the blue moon

The term “Blue Moon” dates back to at least the 16th century in English literature, initially symbolizing absurdity and improbability. In modern usage, the phrase stands for a relatively rare event, hence the saying, “once in a blue moon.”

The widely accepted definition, indicating the second full moon in a calendar month, became popular following an error in an article in “Sky & Telescope” magazine in 1946.

This definition stemmed from a misinterpretation of the Maine Farmer’s Almanac. The almanac originally defined a Blue Moon as the third full moon in a season that has four full moons instead of the usual three. Both definitions are in use today, but the former has more widespread acceptance.

Calculation and frequency of blue moons

Blue Moons appear based on the incongruity between our calendar system and the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle, the period from one full moon to the next, spans approximately 29.5 days, while most months have 30 or 31 days. This discrepancy allows for two full moons to occur within the same month.

Based on the more common definition, a Blue Moon can occur, on average, once every 2.5 to 3 years. In terms of seasonal Blue Moons, they occur roughly once every 2.5 years as well. The year 1999 famously had two Blue Moons. One was in January and one in March, with no full moon in February.

Cultural significance

Despite no visible difference from regular full moons, Blue Moons hold cultural significance due to their rarity. They are often subjects of folklore, songs, and expressions symbolizing infrequent events or occurrences. The phrase “once in a blue moon” represents something that doesn’t happen very often.

From a scientific standpoint, Blue Moons offer no specific value. This is because they are a result of our calendar system rather than an astronomical event. Nevertheless, they provide an opportunity to engage the public in lunar observation and an appreciation for the rhythms of our natural world.

A Blue Moon, while not visually distinct, carries a unique charm due to its rarity and the myths that surround it. It is a reminder of the complex interplay between our calendar, celestial mechanics, and cultural imagination. Despite being a product of human time-keeping, the occurrence of a Blue Moon can prompt renewed interest in the night sky and the intriguing patterns that unfold in it.


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