Wolf Moon: January full moon significance explained
The Cold Moon is this year’s 13th and final Full Moon and will arrive just two days before the calendars turn to 2021. The last Full Moon of the year is traditionally known as the Cold Moon although you may also know it as the Oak Moon or Long Night Moon. In other parts of the world, this Moon is the Ice Moon, the Moon after Yule and the Chang’e Moon.
The Full Moon will peak in brightness on the morning of Wednesday, December 30, here in the UK.
Stargazers across the pond in the US, however, should keep an eye out for the Cold Moon on Tuesday night.
But regardless of where you live, NASA has assured the Moon will appear exceptionally big and bright for about three nights around this peak.
NASA’s lunar expert Gordon Johnston explained: “The next Full Moon will be Tuesday evening, December 29, 2020, appearing opposite the Sun in Earth-based longitude at 10.28pm EST.
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“This is close enough to midnight that the Full Moon will be on the next day in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), so many calendars will show the Full Moon on December 30, 2020.
“The Moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from Monday evening through Thursday morning.”
In astronomical terms, a Full Moon only lasts for a brief moment, when the Moon finds itself 180 degrees from the Sun.
When viewed from London in the UK, this will happen at about 3.28am GMT on Wednesday.
After that, the Moon will set in the northwest at about 8.36am GMT and rise again in the northeast by about 4.10pm GMT.
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What is the meaning behind the Cold Moon’s name?
December’s Full Moon is known by many unusual names and is linked to cultural and religious festivities worldwide.
Its most popular names are linked to the time-keeping traditions of Native American tribes who named the Moon’s full phases after seasonal changes in the landscape.
According to Mr Johnston, these names were later popularised in the 1930s by the Maine Farmer’s Almanac.
He said: “By season, as the first Full Moon of winter, the Algonquin tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States named this the Wolf Moon, from the packs of wolves that howled hungrily outside the villages amid the cold and deep snows of winter.
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“Another name is the Ice Moon. By month the Full Moon in December is called the Cold Moon.”
In Europe, this is the Moon after Yule, named after a pre-Christian festival tied to the winter solstice.
Mr Johnston added: “In the 10th century King Haakon I associated Yule with Christmas as part of the Christianizations of Norway, and this association has spread throughout the countries that follow European traditions.”
And since it is the Full Moon closest to the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – it is also known as the Long Night Moon.
Hindus worldwide also know this Moon as the Datta Jayanti as it commemorates the birthday of the deity Dattatreya.
The day, which falls on December 29, is known as the Datta Jayanti or Dattatreya Jayanti festival.
In Sri Lanka, Buddhists celebrate this Full Moon as the Unduvap Poya.
Mr Johnston has also dubbed this Full Moon the Chang’e Moon in honour of China’s three lunar landers that flew to the Moon in 2013, 2018 and 2020.
He said: “These missions get their name from the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e, who lived on the Moon with her pet rabbit, Yutu.”
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