What is a ‘Wolf Moon’? Here’s why the wonderful spectacle takes place and when to watch it

Other traditional names for the January moon denote the season’s coldness: Cold Moon, Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon, Severe Moon and Hard Moon


                            What is a ‘Wolf Moon’? Here’s why the wonderful spectacle takes place and when to watch it
The moon will appear opposite the Sun in Earth-based longitude at 2.16 pm EST (Getty Images)

The final week of January will feature the second full moon of 2021, a celestial event that has several nicknames. Traditionally referred to as the “Wolf Moon,” it will rise on January 28. The moon will appear opposite the Sun in Earth-based longitude at 2.16 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST). According to NASA, the moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from Wednesday morning (January 28) through the early part of Saturday morning (January 30).

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“From around the world tonight and tomorrow — January 27 and 28, 2021 — watch for a full-looking moon to light up the nighttime from dusk till dawn,” notes Earthsky.org. Detailing the timings, Earthsky.org states, “To astronomers, the moon turns full at a well-defined instant: when the moon is directly opposite the Sun (180 degrees from the Sun in ecliptic longitude). That full moon moment comes on January 28, 2021, at 19.16 UTC. At North American and US time zones, that translates to January 28, at 3.16 pm Atlantic Standard Time (AST), 2.16 pm EST, 1.16 pm Central Standard Time (CST), 12.16 pm Mountain Standard Time (MST), 11.16 am Pacific Standard Time (PST), 10.16 am Alaska Standard Time (AKST) and 9.16 am Hawaiian Standard Time (HST).”

To astronomers, the moon turns full at a well-defined instant when the moon is directly opposite the Sun (Getty Images)

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the moon will not be visible until it rises above the horizon around sunset on January 28 evening. You can check the moonrise times for your location and plan to watch the spectacle accordingly.

Where did it get its names?

Another name for this full moon is the Center Moon. Used by the Assiniboine people, it refers to the idea that this moon roughly marks the middle of the winter season, explains The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Other traditional names for the January moon denote the season’s coldness: Cold Moon (Cree), Frost Exploding Moon (Cree), Freeze Up Moon (Algonquin), Severe Moon (Dakota), and Hard Moon (Dakota). 

January moon names (The Old Farmer’s Almanac)

The first full moon of the year was on January 10, 2021, and it coincided with a lunar eclipse. Overall, 13 full moons are expected this year. Historically, names for the full or new moons were used to track the seasons. The moon names used in The Old Farmer’s Almanac come from Native American, Colonial American, or other traditional North American sources passed down through generations.

The first full moon of 2021 on January 10 coincided with a lunar eclipse (Getty Images)

The Maine Farmer’s Almanac first published Indian names for the full moons in the 1930s. According to this almanac, the Algonquin tribes of what is now the northern and eastern US named the full moon in January or the first full moon of winter the Wolf Moon, from the packs of wolves that howled outside the villages amid the cold and deep snows of winter.

“It’s thought that January’s full moon came to be known as the Wolf Moon because wolves were more often heard howling at this time. It was traditionally believed that wolves howled due to hunger during winter, but we know today that wolves howl for other reasons. Howling and other wolf vocalizations are generally used to define territory, locate pack members, reinforce social bonds, and coordinate hunting,” emphasize experts.

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