Skywatchers will soon get a chance to see the snow moon, which will be one of the largest full moons of this year when it lights up the sky on Feb. 8 and 9.
The February full moon will reach its peak at 2:33 a.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9, according to NASA. “For the best view of this Moon, look for it on the night of Saturday, February 8; it will rise in the east and reach its highest point in the sky around midnight,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Some experts also describe the forthcoming full moon as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, NASA says.
“When a full moon appears at perigee [its closest point to Earth] it is slightly brighter and larger than a regular full moon—and that's where we get a ‘supermoon’,” explains the space agency on its website.
EarthSky notes that, while the Feb. 9 full moon is the fourth-largest of 2020, some experts use different sets of calculations to define a supermoon. One set of calculations uses the Moon’s closest and furthest points to Earth in 2020 as parameters, while the other set uses the closest and furthest points in its current monthly orbit. Using the latter definition, this month’s full moon qualifies as a supermoon, according to EarthSky.
Dubbed the “snow moon,” the February full moon played an important role in Native American culture. “As the midwinter moon or the second full moon of winter, the Native American tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States called this the Snow Moon or the Hunger Moon,” explains NASA. “It was known as the Snow Moon because of the heavy snows that fall in this season.”
Last February's full moon, dubbed the “super snow moon,” was the largest supermoon of 2019.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers