If you’ve been too busy for the last four months to see a supermoon, you can still catch the final one of the year. On Aug. 11, if you can spare a moment to gaze at the heavens, you will be able to see the full “Sturgeon Moon.” August’s full moon reaches peak illumination at 9:36 p.m. on the East Coast. It will be in the southeast section of the sky, but you won’t be able to miss it.
As a bonus, if you stay up until midnight on the 11th, you’ll be able to see the moon within four degrees of Saturn. You should be able to see the ringed planet right below the moon with your naked eye, but some binoculars or a telescope will improve the experience. You would be able to see the Perseid Meteor shower, too, but the full moon will be too bright to see all but the biggest meteors.
What is a supermoon, anyway?
A supermoon is a full moon that occurs when the moon is relatively close to the Earth, at the perigee of its orbit. Because it’s closer, it looks slightly brighter and slightly bigger than a non-supermoon.
August’s full moon’s names: The Sturgeon Moon, Hungry Ghost Moon, and more
There are lots of unofficial names for each month’s moon, as there are lots of cultures that use/used lunar calendars. Among the names we use for August’s moon the United States is “Sturgeon Moon.” According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the name is because “the giant sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this part of summer.”
Other contenders for August’s moon name include “Flying Up Moon,” from the Cree, “Corn Moon,” favored by the Algonquin and Ojibwe people, and “Black Cherries Moon” from the Assiniboine people. My favorite name for this moon, though, comes from China, where the seventh moon of the year is called the “Hungry Ghost Moon.”
The Ghost Festival: When the dead walk the Earth
Celebrated throughout the month in China and nearby countries, the Ghost Festival peaks on Aug. 12 with the full moon. It’s a little like Halloween or Dias de Las Muertos, a time when the barrier between the living and the dead becomes thin and the spirits of the deceased walk the earth, looking for food, entertainment, and trouble.
The job of the living is to appease the dead by laying out some food for ‘em, burning some incense and joss paper, and leaving the first rows open for ghosts at performances. The remembered spirits are generally cool, but homeless spirits can be mischievous and/or murderous, this is why you shouldn’t go swimming during the hungry ghost festival. If you do, the spirits of the deceased may drag you to the bottom of the lake, and next year, it will be you wandering around looking for a free meal and front-row seat.
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