Stargazers will get a treat from tonight as a snow moon is expected to grace the sky, with the spectacle still visible every evening into Tuesday. Weather permitting, the display — the second full moon of the year — will reach peak illumination this evening at 6.28pm, around two hours after the Moon has risen. At this peak, the Moon will be accompanied in the night sky tonight by Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
The name “snow moon” is derived from a North American tradition.
As NASA explains: “The ‘Maine Farmers’ Almanac’ began publishing ‘Indian’ names for full moons in the 1930s and these names are now widely known and used.
“According to this almanac […] the tribes of the northeastern United States called this the snow moon or the storm moon because of the heavy snows in this season.”
According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, February remains the snowiest month of the year in the US — just ahead of January.
NASA continued: “Bad weather and heavy snowstorms made hunting difficult, so this moon was also called the hunger moon.
“Some sources list the wolf moon as an old European name for this full moon.
“Another European name is the candles moon — tied to Candlemas on February 2.”
Candlemas — also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ — is a Christian holiday that commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, as described in Luke 2:22–40.
READ MORE: Breathtaking Snow Moon to light up UK skies next week
Full months typically occur once a month — or, to be more precise, every 29.53 days, on average.
It occurs when the Earth is located between the Sun and the Moon such that the lunar hemisphere facing us is fully illuminated.
While a full moon is often thought of as a lunar phase that endures for a night or longer, it is technically the precise moment when waxing ends and waning begins.
“Supermoon” — or, technically, a “perigee syzygy” — is the name given to a full moon that occurs while the Moon is at perigee, its closest point to Earth on its elliptical orbit, at a distance of around 226,000 miles.
Tonight’s snow moon, however, will be at peak illumination when it is just around 251,149 miles away from the Earth.
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There will be 13 full moons this year — one per month, with the exception of August, in which there will be two.
Last month’s full moon — the “wolf moon” — reached peak illumination at 11:08pm on January 6. After tonight, the next full moon, the “Worm Moon” will peak at 12:40pm on March 7.
While the full moon may be a treat for the occasional stargazer, they are in fact a bad time for astronomical observations of both the Moon and other celestial bodies.
This is because, when fully illuminated, the shadows on the Moon vanish, making surface features hard to distinguish — while the bright sunlight reflected by the natural satellite tends to outshine the majority of stars.