'Wolf moon' to light up Britain's skies this week

Rob Waugh
·2 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: First full moon of the decade: Wolf moon, rises over London - seen from Richmond Park, UK, England on the 10th January 2020. Skywatchers have been treated to the first full moon of 2020 - known as a "wolf moon" - at the same time as a lunar eclipse. Those gazing up at the skies on Friday, weather permitting, would have seen a penumbral lunar eclipse, which happens when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
The 2020 wolf moon was coloured by a penumbral eclipse. (Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)

The first full moon of January will blaze in the sky on Thursday, reaching its fullest point at 7.16pm that day.

It’s called the ‘wolf moon’ traditionally, due to the howling of wolves in midwinter when food is scarce.

Royal Museums Greenwich explains in a blog post: “Other names for this month's full moon include old moon and ice moon.

“A full moon happens roughly every 29.5 days. This is the length of time it takes for the moon to go through one whole lunar phase cycle.”

Last year’s wolf moon saw an eclipse that was described as a ‘super blue blood wolf moon eclipse’.

This year’s will, however, just be an ordinary full moon.

Watch: A ‘wolf moon’ is coming this month, here’s how to see it

Read more: What is a supermoon?

Full moons occur when the moon appears as a full circle in the sky, when the whole side of the moon facing Earth is lit up by the sun.

In this case, the moment will come at 7.16pm UK time, but the full moon can occur at any time during day or night.

JERSEY CITY, NJ - JANUARY 10: The full Wolf Moon rises behind the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City on January 10, 2020 as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images)
Last year's wolf moon looked spectacular around the world. (Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images)

To the naked eye, the moon will appear close to full for a couple of nights either side.

According to Royal Museums Greenwich: “The time refers to the exact moment when the sun and moon are aligned on opposite sides of Earth.

“This moment is known as the 'syzygy' of the sun-Earth-moon system, and can happen at any time day or night.”

Read more: Five moon myths (and how to disprove them yourself)

The names we use for full moons today come to us indirectly from Native American traditions, according to NASA.

NASA’s Gordon Johnston wrote in 2020: “In the 1930s the Maine Farmer's Almanac began publishing ‘Indian’ names for the full moons, tying these names to the European months.

“By season, as the first full moon of winter, the Algonquin tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States named this the wolf moon, from the packs of wolves that howled hungrily outside the villages amid the cold and deep snows of winter.”

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