The “snow moon” is just another full moon—with a little extra sparkle

Supermoons come but two-to-four times per year.
Supermoons come but two-to-four times per year.
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February’s full moon occurs on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

When is the full snow moon?

This is a good one, as full moons go, being the second (and brightest) of three “supermoons” in 2019. So-called supermoons appear larger and brighter than run-of-the-mill full moons because the moon is at its perigee, the point in its orbit when it’s closest to the Earth. This happens between two and four times a year.

This moon will appear full from Sunday night through Wednesday because it’s aligned opposite the sun (to those of us viewing from Earth). The best time to view is at moonrise on Feb. 19. Check the exact time for your location here.

What is the full snow moon?

The fact that it’s called a “snow moon” has nothing to do with either of these interesting facts. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, it’s because it falls in the month of February. In the US, various Native American tribes had various names for the different moons of the year, tied to natural phenomena that reliably occurred alongside them. February is a snowy month in the northern and eastern US; hence the full “snow” moon. It was also known as the “hunger” moon, which is not as endearing a nickname.

At NASA, Gordon Johnston writes that historically the naming of the moons wasn’t as tied to the calendar months as the characteristics of the seasons. This full moon is also the last one of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and by this categorization it also would have gone by the names “crow,” “worm,” “crust,” “sap,” or “sugar” moon, depending on the local conditions that were most prominent. (That is, the return of spring wildlife, snow conditions, and stage in the maple sap cycle, respectively.)

At least these seasonal demarcations for various moons have more historical resonance than “blood moon,” which is a dramatic thing to call a total lunar eclipse. As Elijah Wolfson reported for Quartz, the term likely originated in 2014 with apocalyptic prophecies promoted by fringe Christian pastors, but quickly became a media go-to to describe every total lunar eclipse. This was fueled by the relentless march of search engine optimization, the tactic by which websites attract readers by capitalizing on popular search terms. (Full disclosure: I dug into the details of all this because “snow moon” was trending on Google. Hello Googlers!)

The moon is fascinating, and worth appreciating at any time, be it full or not, snowy or not. And perhaps marveling at a full moon is a healthy monthly ritual, a reminder to slow down and savor the other qualities of our fluctuating natural world. Admittedly, that’s something we tend to miss when we’re glued to our screens searching for facts about the “super snow moon” glowing overhead.