In skylore, every full moon has many names, and most are tied to the months of the year. But some moons are tied to seasons, such as the Harvest and Hunter’s Moons. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. The Hunter’s Moon is the full moon after the Harvest Moon. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the 2016 autumnal equinox came on September 22, and the September 16 full moon was the Northern Hemisphere’s Harvest Moon. So the full moon on the night of October 15-16 is the Northern Hemisphere’s Hunter’s Moon, and what’s more it’s a supermoon! Follow the links below to learn more about the 2016 Hunter’s Moon.
Here’s what happens. On average, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. But when a full moon happens close to the autumnal equinox – either a Harvest or a Hunter’s Moon – the moon (at mid-temperate latitudes) rises only about 30 to 35 minutes later daily for several days before and after the full moon. The reason is that the ecliptic – or the moon’s orbital path – makes a narrow angle with the evening horizon around the time of the autumn equinox.
The result is that there’s a shorter-than-usual lag time between successive moonrises around the full Hunter’s Moon.
These early evening moonrises are what make every Hunter’s Moon special. Every full moon rises around sunset. After the full Hunter’s Moon, you’ll see the moon ascending in the east relatively soon after sunset for a few days in a row at northerly latitudes.
2016 Hunter’s Moon is also a supermoon In some months, the full moon is closer to us in orbit than others. The 2016 Hunter’s Moon does happen to be particularly close. It’s near perigee, the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit. Perigee comes on October 16 at 23:36 UTC (translate to your time zone), about 19 hours after the crest of the moon’s full phase at 4:23 UTC on the same date.
Nowadays, people call these close full moons supermoons.
Some don’t like the word supermoon … but we like it. Full moons at their closest to Earth do look brighter. They have a larger-than-usual effect on earthly tides. Although most of us can’t detect that a supermoon appears larger to the eye, very careful and experienced observers say it’s possible.
So you won’t likely see a bigger-than-usual moon (unless you see it near the horizon, an effect known as the moon illusion). But you can notice how brightly the moon is shining, especially on the nights of October 15 and 16!
Next month – in November 2016, the full moon and perigee (closest point) come even closer together to stage the largest full moon of the year on November 14. Full moon comes on November 14 at 13:52 UTC and perigee about one and one-half hours earlier at 11:23 UTC.
That November 2016 full moon will feature the closest supermoon since 1948!
When should I look for the Hunter’s Moon? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, look for the moon to be bright and full-looking for several nights beginning around October 14 or 15. Around all of these nights, you’ll see a bright round moon in your sky, rising around the time of sunset, highest in the middle of the night.
The precise time of the October full moon is October 16, 2016 at 4:23 UTC. At North American time zones, that places the time of the full moon at 12:23 a.m. EDT (October 16) – yet on October 15, at 11:23 p.m. CDT, 10:23: p.m. MDT or 9:23 p.m. PDT. Translate to your time zone here.
Thus the October 15 moon – for us in North America – will be just as close to full as the moon rises over the eastern horizon around sunset.
Want to know the time of moonrise in your location? My favorite source of that information is this Custom Sunrise Sunset Calendar. Once you get to that page, be sure to click the box for ‘moon phases’ and ‘moonrise and moonset times.’
Is a Hunter’s Moon always bigger, or brighter or more colorful? Hunter’s Moon is just an ordinary full moon with a special path across our sky. Most Hunter’s Moons aren’t really bigger or brighter. They’re definitely no more colorful than any other full moon. Still, many of us do think the Hunter’s Moon always looks bigger … or brighter … and more orange than usual. Why?
It’s because the Hunter’s Moon has a powerful mystique. Many people look for it shortly after sunset around the time of full moon. After sunset around any full moon, the moon will always be near the horizon … because full moons rise at sunset. It’s the location of the moon near the horizon that causes the Hunter’s Moon – or any full moon – to look big and orange in color.
Orange moon near the horizon. The orange color of a moon near the horizon is a true physical effect. It stems from the fact that – when you look toward the horizon – you are looking through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere than when you gaze up and overhead. The atmosphere scatters blue light – that’s why the sky looks blue. The greater thickness of atmosphere in the direction of a horizon scatters blue light most effectively, but it lets red light pass through to your eyes. So a full moon near the horizon – any full moon near the horizon – takes on a yellow or orange or reddish hue.
Big moon near the horizon. The bigger-than-usual size of a moon seen near the horizon is something else entirely. It’s a trick that your eyes are playing – an illusion – called the Moon Illusion. You can find lengthy explanations of the Moon Illusion by googling those words yourself.
In the autumn months, there’s no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days in a row, around the time of full moon. In the days before tractor lights, the lamp of the Harvest Moon helped farmers to gather their crops, despite the diminishing daylight hours. As the sun’s light faded in the west, the moon would soon rise in the east to illuminate the fields throughout the night. A month later, after the harvest was done, the full Hunter’s Moon was said to illuminate the prey of hunters, scooting along in the stubble left behind in the fields.
Who named the Harvest and Hunter’s Moon? Those names probably sprang to the lips of farmers and hunters throughout the world, on autumn evenings, at times of the full moon.
What if I’m in the Southern Hemisphere? If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, your Harvest and Hunter’s moons center on the March equinox, your autumn equinox. Much of what we say in his post – the general information about Harvest and Hunter’s Moons – applies to you, too … next March and April. Right now, your full moon will be doing the opposite of a Hunter’s Moon. That is, for the Southern Hemisphere around the time of the September and October full moons, there’s a longer-than-usual time between moonrises on successive nights.
Bottom line: The Hunter’s Moon for the Northern Hemisphere in 2016 comes on the nights of October 15 and 16. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which in 2016 came on September 16. The Hunter’s Moon is the next full moon after the Harvest Moon. Learn the lore of the Hunter’s Moon – and what to look for – here.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.