What the buck?

Before traditional calendars, many ancient cultures used the appearance of each full moon to mark time passing, typically counting between 12-13 full moons marking a year. Many of the nicknames for the moons that originate from these ancient cultures continue to stick today. As the moon was a regular feature in the night sky, yet constantly changing each night. It became a point of reference to ancient civilizations. Many cultures called the Moon in September, the Harvest Moon, to coincide with harvesting crops after the summer. However, not all the reasons behind the moon names are as obvious. Have you ever heard of a red, blue, pink or even a black moon? What about a strawberry Moon, or a Buck Moon. There are other descriptions used for the Moon like a supermoon, a Micro moon or more sinister sounding, a blood moon? We have a new moon each month but when do we have an old moon? Does the Moon actually morph into something different each night? Can you see these strange moons in the night sky or is it just all just a bit of ancient lunacy? 

Credit: NASA

Buck Moon 

July’s full moon is often known as the Buck Moon. Many native American names for the moon continue to be used today. The antlers of the Buck deer had begun to appear around this time and thus the moon at this time became synonymous with the deer. Although with the summer heat almost means more thunderstorms are likely so it can also be called the thunder moon. In Europe this time of the year is associated with “making hay while the sun shines” so it also sometimes known as the Hay Moon. 

July’s moon will be at its fullest at 5:45am on Sunday 5th July 2020. 

The moon can appear “blood” red during a Lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA 

Red/Blood Moon 

In different cultures, the moon during and eclipse has become associated with stories of bad omens and blood. Within the Inca civilization they believed a jaguar had eaten the moon during a lunar eclipse and they shouted, pointed spears and encouraged their dogs to bark to frighten the jaguar from eating the Earth. In India some superstitions surrounding a lunar eclipse include, covering food and water and pregnant women staying indoors. However not all cultures see lunar eclipses as bad signs. The Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin, believe that during a lunar eclipse, the Sun and Moon are fighting, and serves as a reminder to solve any disputes. 

During a lunar eclipse, that is when the Earth comes between the Moon and the Sun, and the Earth blocks out the Sun’s light shining onto the Moon. The blue light is scattered as it is refracted around the Sun leaving only the red light visible. So, during a lunar eclipse the moon becomes a red or blood colour. 

The next total lunar eclipse is on 16th May 2022 at 4.30am. 

Pink moon 

April’s full Moon is known as the Pink Moon. In the middle of Spring, this full moon coincides with the appearance of the first wild pink flower growing. Despite being called the Pink moon, the moon doesn’t actually appear pink. This moon is also called sprouting grass moon or egg moon. All these terminologies highlight that Winter is over and new growth is happening. 

Blue Moon 

The phrase “once in a Blue Moon” will be a familiar one to many. There’s even a song dedicated to this moon, but when does it happen? This term again does not actually mean the moon changes colour, instead it refers to the second full moon in a calendar month or the to the 3rd full moon in a season. Each season there are usually 3 full moons, sometimes there are 4. In this case the 3rd one is the Blue moon. So depending on your definition, some may be rarer than others. 

On 31st October 2020 will be the second full moon that month. 

On the 22nd August 2021 there will be the 3rd full moon that season. 

Ancient cultures used the moon to mark time passing, does this make sense or where they are all just “luna”-tics? 

Black Moon 

This is not a particularly common term and has various different meanings. The most common is when there is no full moon in February. The lunar cycle lasts 29.5 days and February has only 28 days or 29 every leap year. Therefore, every 19 years there is no Full moon in February. This will next happen in 2037. Sometime a Black moon also refers to no new moon this month, again occurring every 19 years. The next time this happens will be in 2033. Or a Black moon, is also when there are two new moons in a month. Another definition is when there are 4 New Moons in a season. The Black Moon is the third one. As the definitions vary so widely on this one, it no wonder its not used as often. 

The next Black moon will be on 19th August 2020 (this is the 3rd New moon in a season with 4 new moons) 

Two new moons in a calendar month is on the 30th April 2022. 

Strawberry moon 

This refers to the Full moon in June, when strawberries are in season and arks the last full moon of Spring. It is also called the Honey moon or rose moon as roses are in full bloom at this time. 

Supermoon-Perigee 

This year, 2020 has been a strange year for many reasons but so far, we have had 2 supermoons. In April 2020 we had a Super Pink Moon. We already know that it wasn’t pink but what is it that makes the moon “super”. 

The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular, it is an elliptical orbit. So, there will be times that the Moon is closer to the Earth than others. When a full or new moon appears during this time it’s known a supermoon, or when the moon is at Perigee. During a Full Supermoon the Moon can appear up to 30% brighter and look up to 14% bigger than a Micromoon. The scientific term for this is a perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system (syzygy is 3 celestial bodies in a row). The term Supermoon is a little catchier though. 

The next Supermoon is on the 27th April 2021. 

Micromoon-Apogee 

Just as the moon becomes closer during a supermoon, it is further away during a Micromoon, and may appear to be less bright. There are two Micro moons left this year in October. 

The next Micro Moon is the 1st October 2020. 

There is a Micro Blue moon on Halloween 31st October 2020. 

Old/New moon 

The moon doesn’t give off any of its own light, instead it reflects the sunlight towards the Earth. Every 28 days the Moon goes through its phases from New Moon to Full Moon. A full moon is when we see the full disc of the moon illuminated, whereas a new moon is when none of the Moon is illuminated. During lunar cycle the moon grows or waxes from a New Moon, to quarter moon to a full moon, then wanes back to a New Moon. An old Moon refers to the part of this cycle, when the moon is in its last quarter before a New Moon. 

The moon has been known to Earth civilizations for millions of years, so it’s no surprise that many different cultures have tracked the Moon, and used it to mark periods of time, so hopefully some of these definitions are helpful and you won’t need to wave your spear at the jaguar in the moon during the next lunar eclipse.


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