What makes it a snow moon? When should I view it?

The snow moon will be at full illumination on Feb. 5, peaking at 1:30 p.m. EST in the U.S.

Moon heads will probably want to check it out just before the peak on the night of Feb. 4, or the evening of Feb. 5, once it has technically started to wane. 

Why is it called a snow moon?

The precise origins of the names of the full moons are lost to history, but modern sources (and common sense) say the snow moon gets its name from the fact that it’s often snowy this time of year. There isn’t anything especially snowy about the snow moon. It’s just a name.

Each year’s 12 or 13 full moons get fun, seasonal names like “harvest moon” or “hunter’s moon,” depending on the time of year in which they occur. The names are supposedly based on the activities associated with a given time of year in some sort of pre-modern culture. A blue moon, however, is outside of this scheme, and is simply an extra moon in a given calendar month every two or three years.

In US popular culture, we attribute full moon names to Native American oral tradition, but there’s no hard evidence that this connection is the actual origin of these names, and some show up in ancient European traditions as well. However, we know these names are still pretty old. Some go all the way back to a 1710 edition of a periodical(Opens in a new window) called The British Apollo

Why are some snow moons super?

Overheated stargazing news might append the prefix “super” to a moon name if the moon is at its “perigee” or closest approach to Earth, meaning it will appear slightly larger. This year’s snow moon is not super.

Why are some moons blood moons?

Lunar eclipses happen during a special alignment between the moon, Earth, and sun. Specifically, the event occurs when the moon and sun line up on exact opposite sides of our planet. The moon falls into Earth’s shadow. But some sunlight still sneaks through our planet’s atmosphere, resulting in a reddish color reflecting off the moon’s surface. Thus: “blood moon.”

This year’s snow moon is not a blood moon.

So to recap: A “super snow blood moon” would simply be a snow moon that happens to occur at the moon’s perigee, and also happens to coincide with a lunar eclipse. 

What even is a full moon? 

The moon appears to us in slivers and chunks we call “phases” because throughout its orbit we’re seeing it illuminated to varying degrees by the sun. All of these phases come from the complex dance of the sun, Earth, and moon. The angle of the sun’s light at any given phase can produce a fat “gibbous” if the majority of the moon’s face — that is, the side facing us — appears illuminated, or a skinny “crescent” if the sun is hitting less than half. 

However, a full moon — no matter the name — happens when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, or to put it another way: when we on Earth are between the sun and the moon. When all three are more or less aligned, the side facing us is fully illuminated, and appears full. 

How can I see the moon?

Look up.