Simulated image courtesy of Tom Ruen.

Full Moon

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Moon feed

Objects: The Moon
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The sky at

The Moon will reach full phase. At this time of the month, it is visible for much of the night, rising at around dusk and setting at around dawn.

August 2271: a supermoon?

This month, the moon reaches full phase at around the same time that its elliptical orbit also makes its closest approach to the Earth – called its perigee. In recent times it has become fashionable to describe such full moons as "supermoons" – a term which originated among astrologers in the late 1970s.

The Moon's distance from the Earth varies because its orbit is not perfectly circular – it is slightly oval-shaped, tracing out a path called an ellipse.

As the Moon traverses this elliptical path around the Earth each month, its distance varies by 14%, between 356,500 km at perigee (closest approach to the Earth) and 406,700 km at apogee (furthest from the Earth).

Its angular size also varies by the same factor, between 29.4 arcmin and 33.5 arcmin. When full moon coincides with perigee, it does appear very slightly brighter than at other times, but the difference is so small as to be imperceptible to the untrained eye.

The chart below shows the size of this month's full moon in comparison to the largest (perigee) and smallest (apogee) possible apparent size of a full moon, drawn to scale.

The Moon
Full Moon
at perigee
The Moon
August 2271
Full Moon
The Moon
Full Moon
at apogee

In 2271, two full moons occur close enough to perigee to qualify as "supermoons" by the most common definition of the term: those on 21 August and 19 September.

To emphasise the subtlety of the changes in the Moon's size, the plot below shows the variation in the apparent size of the Moon at each of its full moons in 2271.

The Moon illusion

Although the angular size of the Moon only changes by a very modest amount in reality, a very common optical illusion is that the Moon appears very much larger than it really is when it is close to the horizon. This is called the Moon illusion – and is nothing more than an optical illusion. Any photograph will reveal that the Moon is exactly the same size regardless of whether it appears on the horizon or directly overhead.

The reason why we perceive this optical illusion is hotly debated. However, it may explain why some people are convinced that the Moon appears larger on some nights than others, despite the actual changes in its true size being so small.

The Sturgeon Moon

The sequence of full moons that fall through the year are sometimes assigned names such as the "Sturgeon Moon", according to the months and seasons in which they fall. This practice has been popularised in recent decades by the Farmers' Almanac in the United States. The names used by that almanac claim to have ancient origins from Native American tribes. This claim has been examined in detail by Patricia Haddock's book Mysteries of the Moon (1992) and is partially true, but the selection of names is largely arbitrary.

Throughout history a great variety of different names have been given to the sequence of lunar cycles through the year, and modern lists of such names, such as those popularised by the Farmers' Almanac, tend to inevitably be a medley of names taken from many different cultures.

The full moon of 21 August is the third of four full moons to fall between the June solstice and the September equinox, which means that it is a blue moon, by one definition of the term.

This use of the term was coined by the Maine Farmers' Almanac in the 1930s as part of its efforts to recreate the calendars of Native American peoples. Following historical practice, the almanac divided the year into four seasons, separated by the equinoxes and solstices, and used lists of three names for the full moons which fell within each season.

However, once every 2.8 years, one of these seasons would have four full moons rather than the usual three. The name blue moon was given to the third of these four. The three traditional names were applied to the first, second, and fourth full moon falling within the allotted period. This custom appears to have originated with in the 1930s, with no earlier precedent.

However, in the scheme followed by the Farmers' Almanac, which has become rather widely quoted, any full moon in the month of August is called the "Sturgeon" Moon.

Observing the Moon in coming days

Over the nights following 21 August, the Moon will rise around an hour later each day, becoming prominent later in the night. Within a few days, it will only be visible in the pre-dawn and early-morning sky. By the time it reaches last quarter, a week after full moon, it will rise in the middle of the night and set at around noon.

The table below lists the rising and setting times of the moon in the days around full moon:

Date Moonrise Moonset Phase
16 Aug 227115:3501:4566%
17 Aug 227116:3002:5176%
18 Aug 227117:2104:0185%
19 Aug 227118:0705:1392%
20 Aug 227118:4806:2597%
21 Aug 227118:4806:25100%
22 Aug 227119:2707:3799%
23 Aug 227120:0308:4795%
24 Aug 227120:4009:5789%
25 Aug 227121:1711:0580%

The exact moment of full moon

The exact moment of full moon is defined as the time when the Moon's ecliptic longitude is exactly 180° away from the Sun's ecliptic longitude, as observed from the center of the Earth. However, the Moon does not appear in any way special at this instant in time, and a full moon can be observed at any time of night.

At the moment it reaches full phase, the Moon will lie at a declination of 9°22'S in the constellation Capricornus . It will lie at a distance of 357,000 km from the Earth.

The celestial coordinates of the Moon at the time it reaches full phase will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
The Moon 21h41m30s 9°22'S Capricornus 33'26"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 22 Jul 2024

The sky on 22 July 2024
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

17-day old moon
Waning Gibbous


17 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 08:06 14:39 21:12
Venus 06:57 13:49 20:40
Moon 20:38 01:50 07:08
Mars 01:45 08:41 15:37
Jupiter 02:26 09:28 16:30
Saturn 22:21 04:07 09:53
All times shown in PDT.


The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE430 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

21 Aug 2271  –  Full Moon
27 Aug 2271  –  Moon at Last Quarter
04 Sep 2271  –  New Moon
12 Sep 2271  –  Moon at First Quarter

Image credit

Simulated image courtesy of Tom Ruen.


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