Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
3 minute read
21 Sep 2021
4:46 pm

What’s in a name? The meaning behind tonight’s full Harvest Moon

Cheryl Kahla

Don't miss the first spring full moon. Here's what you need to know about September's full Harvest Moon.

This is part of a larger painting titled "The Harvest Moon" by George Mason that was exhibited in 1872. It depicts an agrarian scene by moonlight. Contributed / George Mason, public domain

Skywatchers, cast your gaze heavenward tonight for the first spring full moon, also known as the Harvest Moon. You might want to set your alarm for this one.

But first, here’s why tonight’s full moon is special.

Full Harvest Moon FAQ

Names and traditions

The full Harvest Moon is known by other names – Fruit Moon, Barley, Corn, Reunion Festival, Chuseok Festival, Imo Meigetsu, etc, as determined by traditions from around the world.

Gordon Johnston, Nasa’s Programme Executive in the Science Mission Directorate at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington, said ‘Harvest Moon’ is an old European name.

“The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1706 as the year of its first published use. Farmers sometimes need to work late by the light of the Moon for the harvest,” Johnston explains.

Other names include:

  • Fruit Moon, as a number of fruits ripen as the end of summer approaches in the Northern hemisphere.
  • Barley Moon, from the harvesting and threshing of the barley, also in the northern hemisphere
  • Corn Moon, from the Algonquin tribes in northeastern U.S. who gathered corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice during this time.
  • Madhu Purnima or Honey Moon, as known by some Buddhists in Bangladesh and Thailand.
  • Binara Pura Pasalosvaka Poya Day in Sri Lanka to commemorate the establishment of the Buddhist Bhikkhuni Order.
  • Mooncake in China, where it corresponds with the Reunion Festival.
  • In Korea, the Harvest Full Moon corresponds with the harvest festival Chuseok.
  • Paper masks (pictured below) form traditional Vietnamese celebrations for the mid-autumn festival, Vietnam’s equivalent of a harvest festival.

“Newer names for this full Moon are the GRAIL Moon and the LADEE Moon, named for two lunar robotic missions launched in September”, Johnston says.

full harvest moon 2021
Vu Thi Thoan painting masks Yen My district, Hung Yen. Photo: AFP/HOANG DINH NAM

What time is the full Harvest moon?

The best time to view a full moon is a few days after the first quarter, when exactly half the moon is illuminated.

The Harvest Moon is exactly 180 degrees opposite the Sun in ecliptic longitude on 21 September 2021, at 7:55 EDT (or 1:55am South African Standard Time).

However, the moon will appear “full” for around three days, with the fullest point occurring at 7:55 am Eastern Daylight Time.

Nasa says: “While the Moon will be full on Monday from Iceland, Liberia, and Senegal westward across the Americas, it will be on Tuesday for the rest of Africa and Europe eastward across Asia and Australia.”

full harvest moon 2021
A Harvest Moon rising over Virginia, USA. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that appears nearest to the Autumnal Equinox. Photo: AFP/Karen Bleier

To view it from South Africa, cast your eyes skywards any time after dark tonight. You should be able to enjoy the astronomical event until Thursday morning.

When is the next full moon?

You’ll only have to wait another month. The next full moon will appear on 20 October. It is known as Hunters Moon, or Blood Moon, as it traditionally marked the start of the hunting season.

The Hunter’s Micromoon in October 2020 was accompanied by a lunar apogee, which occurs when the moon is the farthest point from Earth in its elliptical orbit.

Old folklore accounts suggested that micro moons affect human mental health and bring on natural disasters, such as earthquakes. However, no scientific evidence supports any such correlation.

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