Did you see the “Wolf Moon” rising this week?
There is something magical about seeing the full Moon rise on the eastern horizon in January. As the Sun sets and the sky begins to darken, an orange Moon comes into view on the opposite horizon, eventually casting a warm glow over the landscape.
That’s what happened on Saturday, January 7, 2023 and an army of photographers from around the world was on hand to capture it rising into the sky.
Here are some of the best images of our only natural satellite as its full disk became visible to us this month:
January’s full moon is called the “Wolf Moon” with other names including “Ice Moon,” “Snow Moon” and “Moon After Yule.”
On average the Moon is about 238,855 miles away from Earth, but its orbital path is slightly elliptical. That means there’s a point every month when it’s farthest away (apogee) and closest (perigee). A perigee full Moon is known as a supermoon.
There is no “dark side of the Moon”—only an unseen far side. The Moon is tidally locked to Earth, showing us only one face.
The Moon’s surface is covered in craters, mountains and lava plains called mares (seas). Some of its largest craters—all formed by meteorite impacts—are visible to the naked eye during a full Moon. They include the Sea of Serenity and Sea of Tranquility (two round mare adjacent to each other), Tycho crater (a whitish circle at the bottom) and Aristarchus crater (a small chalky white region on the left).
Full Moon is a good time to study the lunar surface in terms of what you can see, but there are caveats. Once it’s high in the sky it’s incredibly bright and its glare makes it hard to look at. It’s therefore best observed as it rises on the eastern horizon at dusk.
It’s also wise to observe the Moon when it’s low to maximize the “Moon illusion.” For reasons not fully understood, the human brain interprets the moon as looking bigger when it’s viewed on the horizon, in the context of the trees and buildings.
However, the best time to study the Moon is at either the First Quarter or Last Quarter phases seven days before and after the full Moon, respectively. That’s because shadows are thrown across its surface, which makes its craters stand out more. Point a small telescope or a pair of 10×42 (or similar) binoculars at the line that separates lunar day and night and you’ll see some wonderful sights.
Another great time to study our only natural satellite is at the crescent Moon, a couple of nights after a New Moon 14 days before and after a full Moon, when a slim crescent sets in the west shortly after sunset. Look for “Earthshine” on the dark limb of the Moon—an eerie half-light that’s actually sunlight being reflected off Earth’s surface.
Any small telescope is perfect for looking at the Moon and light pollution makes no difference whatsoever. Never tell anyone that moon-gazing must be done in a dark sky region. That’s nonsense! The Moon looks the same, in terms of brightness, to everyone on the planet.
The Moon’s phases and brightness may be global, but it will look “upside down” if you travel to the other side of the equator to where you live. That’s because it’s being viewed from a different perspective. When you look at the Moon from the northern hemisphere, you are looking at it from above, so it appears right side up. When you look at the Moon from the southern hemisphere, you are looking at it from below.
The next full moon after the “Wolf Moon” is the “Snow Moon,” which will rise on February 5, 2023.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.