When it comes to different full moons throughout the year, we've got a red moon, a black moon, and now... a Snow Moon? Yep, you heard me right. If this is the first time you've heard of the Snow Moon, it makes sense to ask, "is the Snow Moon rare?" That's what I wondered when I first learned about it, so I went ahead and did some digging. And it turns out that although the Snow Moon sounds like it comes straight from a fantasy novel — perhaps the mystical name of a werewolf? — it isn't exactly as unique or uncommon as you might think.
Despite its magical-sounding name, the Snow Moon is actually just another fancy term for February's full moon. There's typically one full moon every month (the exceptions being months with Blue or Black Moons); in a practice begun by the Algonquin tribes along what's currently the East Coast, each of those moons has a specific name that says something about the time of year in which it occurs. The Snow Moon is named as such because it takes place during February, which is usually the coldest, most winter-y month of the year. (So true. I woke up yesterday morning and found my apartment drowning in the snowpocalypse — OK, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.) In fact, the Snow Moon takes place like clockwork every February, so it really isn't rare at all.
Last year, the Snow Moon took to the sky on Feb. 22, which is significantly later than this year's, as well as the Snow Moon in 2015, when it showcased on Feb. 3. There isn't any major difference between February's full moon and the other 11 full moons that happen during other months of the year. Fun fact, though: February actually skips out on its full moon every 19 years because it takes the moon 28 days to orbit the Earth.
This year, the Snow Moon debuts on the night of Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 — yup, that's in just a few hours, y'all. To be more specific, the moon will rise at about 5:18 p.m. and set around 6:33 a.m. the next morning (its peak time is 7:33 p.m.). And get this: Shortly after the Snow Moon comes out, the penumbral lunar eclipse and a Comet 45P flyby will also take place. Three celestial events in one night? That, my friends, is definitely a rare sight indeed, and a nice way to kick start your weekend, no?
Unlike the Snow Moon, the penumbral lunar eclipse will only last for about four hours. During this time, the sun, the moon, and the Earth all position themselves in a line, and the moon actually looks darker because it's being shielded by Earth's penumbra, or shadow. (Normally, the moon gets lit by the sun.) The eclipse's peak time is 7:43 p.m., which is also when the moon will look the darkest. People who are located in North America, Africa, Europe, and most parts of Asia will be able to view the lunar eclipse and the snow moon together. Comet 45P, on the other hand, is expected to brighten the sky just before dawn (if you're living in the east) or just after sunset (if you're based in the west), although you'll probably need binoculars or a telescope to see this one.
So what does all of this mean? Even though the Snow Moon by itself is nothing rare, superstitious stargazers may find deeper meaning in this year's three-in-one celestial affair. Get ready: It's going be a busy night.