The Harvest Moon will grace the night sky Thursday, casting a glow in the Northern Hemisphere that skywatchers anticipate every year – but the event was once much more than celestial entertainment.
The full moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox is known as the Harvest Moon, and usually that happens in September, according to Earthsky.org.
But this year, the autumnal equinox fell on Sept. 22, and since the September full moon occurred earlier in the month, on Sept. 5-6, the full moon Thursday is the Harvest Moon.
Before electricity, farmers relied on moonlight during the fall months to help them harvest the late summer and early autumn crops. Because moonlight was an essential part of farming during this time and the moonrise happened very quickly after sunset, it became known as the Harvest Moon, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Another reason the Harvest Moon is so different from other full moons is that throughout the year, the moon generally rises an “average of about 50 minutes later each day,” the Almanac reported, but the closer to the autumnal equinox, there’s only a 30-minute difference.
“The Full Harvest Moon rises at sunset, then will rise very near sunset for several nights in a row,” making it seem like there are “full moons multiple nights in a row,” according to the Almanac.
Folklore also has it that every full moon has a special name that explains something about the season or the month, according to NASA.
There’s also the Snow Moon, the Wolf Moon, the Worm Moon, the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Flower Moon, the Strawberry Moon, the Thunder Moon, the Sturgeon Moon, the Long Night’s Moon, the Beaver Moon, the Hunter’s Moon, and this month’s moon, the Harvest Moon.