This weekend the moon will take on some aspects of the trickster coyote by appearing to be something it’s not—in the moon’s case, it will look full but will in actuality be just shy of that.
“From all over the world, the moon will look full as it lights up the nighttime tonight (March 15-16, 2014),” says Earthsky.org. “Technically speaking, though, it’ll be a waxing gibbous moon—not a full moon—that you’ll see tonight, if you live in the Americas.”
But only astronomers care about that. On this, the last full moon of official winter, the instant of fullness happens around lunchtime on March 16, precisely at 1:09 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. At that hour, of course, our friend the moon will be busy elsewhere, shining down on the dark side of Mother Earth. However, Earthsky.org points out, that won’t matter much because the moon will be at least 98 percent illuminated for several days before and after actual fullness, so we will not know the difference.
A more subtle phenomenon, though much more spine-tingling, happens on March 20, when a faint asteroid named 163 Erigone will fly between us and Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the sky this time of year, and briefly blot it out completely. More than 20 million gazers in New York metropolitan area and parts of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York and Ontario will be able to see Regulus “wink out of sight for up to 14 seconds around 2:06 a.m. EDT on the morning of the 20th for New Yorkers, and a minute or two later farther north,” Sky & Telescope says.
It is a rare event, and the first time in recorded history that a star this bright has been eclipsed by an asteroid within the view of so many people, Sky & Telescope says.
The most-awaited astronomical event of the coming week is, of course, spring, which arrives on March 20. This is reflected in the names that American Indians have given the March moon, according to the website of the Western Washington State University Planetarium. Appropriately enough, the Abenaki call the mid-March full moon the spring season maker moon, or sigwankas.
Namossack kesos, or catching fish, is the name given the March full moon by the Algonquin, according to the planetarium’s website. The Anishinaabe call it the snow crust moon, or bebookwaadaagame-giizis(oog), which is especially apt this harsh winter.
The Arapaho call it the buffalo dropping their calves moon, which makes sense given their history as bison hunters. The Passamaquoddy call it, fittingly enough, siqon, or spring moon. Poetically, the Pueblo call it moon when the leaves break forth. Those of us in the Northeast who are sick of bundling up every other day may be just as happy to name this one the Buh-Bye Winter Moon.