Harvest Moon

StarDate: October 3, 2009

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Mother Nature pulls a bit of a fast one tonight. It's the night of the most famous full Moon of them all: the Harvest Moon.

It's a fast one because in most years, the Harvest Moon falls in September, with October's full Moon carrying the follow-up title of Hunter's Moon. But this year is an exception.

The Harvest Moon is defined as the full Moon that's closest to the autumnal equinox, which this year took place on September 22nd. September's full Moon took place on the 4th, a little more than 18 days before the equinox. October's full Moon, on the other hand, falls a little more than 11 days after the equinox, so it beats out September's by a full week.

Despite its fame, the Harvest Moon is no closer than any other full Moon. In fact, the distance between Earth and the Moon isn't related to the lunar phases at all. So sometimes the full Moon is a little closer than average, and sometimes a little farther. This year, it's right in the middle -- just a bit more than the average distance of 239,000 miles.

One other thing that's the same as other full Moons is the color. But most of us are more aware of the Harvest Moon than other full Moons, so we're more likely to notice its beautiful orange and golden hues as it climbs skyward.

The exact time of the full Moon, by the way, is 1:10 a.m. Central Daylight Time -- a Harvest Moon that's a little bit out of place.

Tomorrow: planets fill the dawn sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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