How to see and what to know about the harvest moon, the year’s last supermoon

For some, leaves changing from lively greens to crisp oranges, pumpkin spice cravings and cozy sweater weather mark the beginning of autumn. While these are all iconic fall staples, skywatchers get an extra treat. The harvest moon, the conclusion of this year’s four-part supermoon series, will start lighting up the sky on Thursday night.

The moon will look a pumpkin-y orange and red — which seems oddly fitting — but that isn’t a unique trait to this month. All full moons appear orange — and we have 13 each year.

Supermoons are full moons that occur when the moon is at the closest point of orbit to Earth. Supermoons can appear up to 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the smallest-seeming full moon, according to NASA. This will be the last supermoon until next August.

People around the world gazed up at the night sky to see the first of this year’s supermoons, known as the Buck Moon, on July 3. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)

Why is it called a harvest moon?

The harvest moon, also known as the corn moon by Indigenous groups in the Northeast, historically signals the time of year when different summer crops are ready to be harvested. Farmers have also relied on the light from September’s full moon to harvest their crops late into the night.

“It’s close to the full harvest, so it’s a full moon that happens around the time of the fall harvest,” said Noah Petro, a scientist with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Project at NASA.

Where and when can you see this moon?

While this year’s harvest moon will appear to be a bit larger and brighter because of its supermoon status, it’s simply the closest full moon to the autumn equinox.

The autumnal equinox, which results in nearly an equal amount of daylight and darkness at all latitudes, signals the astronomical turning of seasons — meaning cooling temperatures are finally on the way after this blistering summer. This year, the harvest moon will rise about a week after the autumn equinox, from Thursday night into Friday morning. The moon will be at it’s fullest at 5:57 a.m. on Friday.

We are all separated by distance but united by the moon and, luckily, this is a moon that everyone will get to see. It will be full from sunrise to sunset.

While the harvest moon will begin to grace skies on Thursday, don’t fret if you miss it. Skywatchers, and harvesters, will be able to see a near full moon in the days leading up to its monthly peak and in the days after, according to NASA ambassador Tony Rice.

“You can go at least a day in either direction, maybe two in each direction, and it’s going to look just as full to most people,” Rice said.


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