If you haven’t been paying attention to the moon recently now is a good time to start. The Harvest Moon occurs on the 19th, and if skies are clear on and around the 19th we really should take a few minutes to enjoy it.
As most people know, the Harvest Moon is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. It is also known as the Wine Moon, Singing Moon, and Elk Call Moon. I suppose there aren’t many people who can remember harvesting without the benefit of headlights, but even today the harvest moon is helpful. A little extra light is always welcome during harvest.
It seems that the Harvest Moon always manages to elicit our sense of wonder and jogs our memories of days gone by. That might be through making us muse about harvests of our youth or perhaps wondering who the singer was that made “Shine On, Shine On Harvest Moon” so popular back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The moon generally rises fifty minutes later each successive evening during the year, but around the autumnal equinox it rises only about thirty minutes later each day. It has to do with the orbits of the earth and moon. So the full moon around the autumnal equinox really does provide an unusually large amount of light during the early evening hours.
Many casual observers think that the harvest moon is larger than the other full moons, but that is an illusion. All full moons near the horizon look larger than when they are further up in the sky. The phenomenon has been well documented and is known as the “moon illusion.” Even at that, it’s size still seems to defy logic. Some people will also say that the harvest moon is brighter and more orange than other full moons, but the moon has not actually changed color. When we observe any full moon near the horizon we are looking through more of the atmosphere. The red light comes through the atmosphere in greater amounts compared to some of the other colors of the light spectrum, so the moon takes on an orange or red hue.
Take a little time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the Harvest Moon. It’s both interesting and evocative. Who knows, if it’s a quiet evening you may even hear the faint melody of someone in the distance singing “shine on harvest moon, for me and my gal.”
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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