The January full moon is the Wolf Moon
When and where to look in 2023: Look for the bright, round full moon to rise in the east near sunset on January 6, 2023. It’ll be glowing nearly overhead around midnight, and dropping low in the west near sunrise.
Crest of the full moon falls at 23:08 UTC on January 6. That’s 5:08 p.m. CST.
January’s full moon is the Wolf Moon: All full moons have popular nicknames. January’s full moon is often called the Wolf Moon because – in parts of the world where they live – wolves are active in January and often howl on cold nights. Other names derived from North American indigenous people play upon January’s cold. They include the Cold Moon, Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon, and Hard Moon.
Note: At full moon, the sun, Earth, and the moon align in space, with Earth in the middle. As a result, the moon’s day side – its fully lighted hemisphere – directly faces us. That is why the moon appears full. Since – as seen from the Northern Hemisphere – the sun travels daily in a short, low arc across the early January sky, the full moon, opposite the sun in the sky, travels in a long, high arc across and passes nearly overhead around local midnight. Meanwhile, as seen from the Southern Hemisphere, the January sun is high, and the moon rides low.
This January’s full moon is a micromoon
Some moons are supermoons. That is, they’re both full and in a close part of their orbits to Earth.
But the January 2023 full moon is a micromoon. It’s in a far part of its orbit. A careful comparison with photos of other full moons would show that this full moon appears smaller-than-average in our sky.
The January 2023 micromoon is the first of two micromoons in 2023. It’s not the farthest full moon of 2023. It’s only 2nd-farthest, at 252,145 miles (405,789 km). The February full moon will be 2023’s farthest – and last – micromoon of this year.
While a mircomoon can appear up to 14% smaller than a supermoon – thus appearing less bright than a supermoon – this January 2023 full moon still will shine very brightly. It’ll appear especially bright because the leaves are off the deciduous trees now. If snow covers the ground where you are, the moon will look brighter still.
So enjoy January’s full moon!
Early January full moon lies in Gemini
The January full moon can lie in front of one of two constellations of the zodiac. If the full moon falls in the first half of the month, as it does this year, it will land in Gemini the Twins. If it happens during the second half, as it did in 2022 and will again in 2024, it will fall in Cancer the Crab.
The moon is roundest on the day when it is full, but it appears almost, but not quite full the day before and after. On the evening of this January’s full moon, the twin stars of Gemini, Castor (the dimmer one) and Pollux (the brighter one) shine nearby. However, the bright moonlight may make these two famous stars dim or even invisible. If you can’t spot them, rest assured, they are still there!
January full moon and the June sun
Every full moon stays – more or less – opposite the sun. The moon’s path roughly follows the sun’s daytime path from six months ago, and six months from now. You can see this happening as you watch the early January full moon rise to almost the top of the sky, just as the sun does in the weeks before and after the June solstice.
For the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the same effect. But, since it is early summer there, the full moon in early January rides low as the early January sun rides high.
This January’s full moon nearly matches the high arc of last month’s full moon because the winter solstice – on December 21 – happened about midway between them.
Tracing the high path of the January full moon
You can experiment with the path of the sun and moon. Simply trace a line with your finger from east to west along a low arc above the southern horizon to emulate the sun’s early January path. Then trace another path high overhead to emulate the moon’s path in early January. You’ll see that the higher path will be much longer than the lower one.
Little by little, we can watch the two paths come back into balance. Each month, the full moon will cross the sky at a slightly lower arc than the previous month. Each successive full moon takes less time than the previous one to cross the sky. At March’s full moon, which is near the Northern Hemisphere’s spring equinox, the two paths – of the moon and of the sun – will nearly the same. Then, near the June solstice, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere see the sun cross high overhead during the year’s longest days. And, during the short northern summer nights, we see the moon cross lower and spend less time in the sky.
And on the cycle goes.
Bottom line: The 2023 January full moon falls on January 6 at 23:08 UTC (January 6, 5:08 p.m. CST). That’s just 16 nights after the December solstice. It closely follows the path of the sun in early July.