Typically, there are 12 Full Moons each year, with an extra Blue Moon appearing every two to three years. In October, the 10th Full Moon of the year is traditionally known as the Hunter’s Moon, Dying Grass Moon, Travel Moon and sometimes as the Harvest Moon. And if stargazers looked up at the skies last night, they might have already though the Moon was full.
This is because the Moon appears full to the naked eye for about three days centred around the peak.
The peak itself only occurs when the Moon is completely illuminated by the Sun’s light.
Astronomer Deborah Byrd of Earthsky.org said: “The Moon appears full to the eye for two to three nights.
“However, astronomers regard the Moon as full at a precisely defined instant, when the Moon is exactly 180 degrees opposite the sun in Ecliptic longitude.”
Why does the Moon turn full every month?
As the lunar orb races around our planet, and the Sun by extension, it goes through a 29.53-day cycle.
During this cycle, the amount of sunlight falling on the Moon’s Earth-facing side changes every night.
This change leads to eight distinct phases that start and end with the darkened New Moon.
The US space agency NASA said: “The moonlight we see on Earth is sunlight reflected off the Moon’s greyish-white surface.
“The amount of Moon we see changes over the month — lunar phases — because the Moon orbits Earth and Earth orbits the Sun. Everything is moving.”
The lunar phases in order are New Moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter and Waning Crescent.
NASA said: “The Sun’s light comes from one direction, and it always illuminates, or lights up, one half of the Moon – the side of the Moon that is facing the Sun. The other side of the Moon is dark.
“On Earth, our view of the illuminated part of the Moon changes each night, depending on where the Moon is in its orbit, or path, around Earth.”
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Is it a Full Moon tonight?
When the Moon rises over the horizon tonight, it will indeed be this month’s Harvest Moon.
When viewed from London, the Moon will rise in the eastern skies at about 9pm BST.
However, the brief moment of complete illumination will occur at about 10.05pm BST.
Astronomer Jeff Magnum of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) said: “Technically, the point at which the Moon is ‘full’ lasts only an instant.
“To the naked eye, though, the Moon can appear to be full for upwards of three days.
“Also, the exact time of Full Moon can occur at any time of the day, even during the middle of the day.”
And keep your eyes peeled because a second Full Moon – a Blue Moon – will appear before the month is over.
The Blue Moon will rise on the night of Halloween on October 31.
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