If you've ever wondered what a harvest moon looks like, poke your head outside on Saturday. That's when this year's harvest moon will rise. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which this year was on Sept. 22.
It's different from other full moons because it rises at roughly the same time for several nights running, giving more light.
"In the days before tractors with headlights, having moonlight to work by was crucial to getting the harvest in quickly before rain caused it to rot," says Alan MacRobert, an editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.
The harvest moon will rise at 11:19 p.m. ET, he says.
On average, the moon rises 50 minutes later each day than it did the day before. However, at this time of year, because of the angle of the moon as it orbits Earth, "the moon is rising at roughly the same time it rose the night before," says Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
So for about three days, the full moon comes up just after the sun sets.
The moon may look bigger and seem closer, but it's not, says David DeVorkin, a senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Generally, photos of harvest moons are taken with telephoto lenses, distorting the size.
The harvest moon can appear reddish, though, because of dust in the atmosphere.
The time of moonrise "has to do with the angle along which the moon is traveling in its orbit," Krupp says. At the fall equinox, "the angle is very shallow, so it doesn't go so far below the horizon and as a result comes up again at about the same time."
The harvest moon isn't the only one with a name. The new moon after the harvest moon was known as the hunter's moon, because it aided hunters stalking night game as autumn deepened.
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