One of the most amazing sights in the night sky is a full moon. And when the moon is orange, it is even more spectacular!
Usually, the Harvest Moon takes place in September, but this year the cycle spilled over to October 5th, the first time since 2009.
What exactly is a Harvest Moon and why does it appear orange? Let's find out.
What Is A Harvest Moon?
A full moon occurs once every 29.5 days, when the Sun, Earth and the Moon are in a line, with the Earth positioned between the two. Since the entire face of the moon is lit up by the Sun, it appears to us on Earth as a complete sphere.
We call the full moon closest to the fall equinox (which happened on September 22nd this year) the Harvest Moon. The October Harvest Moon isn’t actually that rare, and happens anywhere between every 3 to 8 years.
In general, since the moon’s rotation around Earth is elliptical, the Harvest Moon rises 30 minutes after sunset as opposed to the regular 50 minutes. The 20 minutes made a significant difference for farmers. As the sun’s light faded in the west, the moon would soon rise in the east, allowing them to work extra hours on their farms.
Why does the Harvest Moon have an orange glow? When the moon first appears on the horizon (soon after sunset), its light has to pass through a very thick layer of our Earth's atmosphere. The particles in the atmosphere scatter the blue light almost completely, allowing only yellow, orange and red colors to reach us.
Myths & Folktales
Many cultures have traditions, as well as myths and folktales, centered around the moon. In ancient societies, the moon symbolized femininity, eternity, and a cyclical nature, perhaps because it controls the tides and waxes and wanes throughout the month. Many of the celestial events we watch involve the moon: the lunar eclipses, the blood moons, and blue moons.
The Native Americans have given names to every full moon to track the seasons. For them, the Harvest Moon signifies that it is time to begin harvesting their crops: corn, beans, etc. Because of this, it is also called the Corn Moon. However, when the Harvest Moon falls in October, it is also called the Hunter’s Moon, because the extra moonlight and empty fields allow hunters to track prey easily.
In addition, the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which began during the Zhou Dynasty and is celebrated in hopes of a better harvest. The festival takes place every September 15th on the lunar calendar, and the time coincides with the Harvest Moon. During the week, people reunite with families and enjoy a traditional dessert, the mooncake.
Either way, the Harvest Moon has come to symbolize the coming of the colder months, a time for harvest, and a time of celebration.