Full Wolf Moon (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

This Week’s Sky: January 25 to 31, 2021

After a busy month for the planets, the Full Wolf Moon takes centre stage this Thursday.

Monday, January 25 – Bright Moon beside Messier 35 (all night)

Bright Moon beside Messier 35 (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

Once the sky darkens on Monday evening, January 25, skywatchers can look for the large open star cluster known as Messier 35, or the Shoe-Buckle Cluster, sitting just to the upper right (or celestial west) of the bright waxing gibbous Moon in Gemini. During the night the Moon’s orbital motion (green line) will draw the Moon farther from the cluster, and the diurnal rotation of the sky will lift the Moon higher compared to the cluster. To best see Messier 35’s stars, hide the bright Moon beyond the left edge of your binoculars’ field of view.

Thursday, January 28 – Full Wolf Moon (at 19:16 GMT)

Full Wolf Moon (Chris Vaughan, Starry Night Education)

The January full Moon will occur at 2:16 p.m. EST (or 19:16 GMT) on Thursday, January 28. Known as the Wolf Moon, Old Moon, and Moon after Yule, this Moon always shines in or near the stars of Gemini or Cancer. Since it’s opposite the Sun on this day of the lunar month, the Moon is fully illuminated, and rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Full moons during the winter months reach as high in the sky as the summer noonday Sun and cast similar shadows.

Each society around the world developed its own set of stories for the Moon, and every month’s full Moon now has one or more names related to human spirit or the natural environment. The Indigenous Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call the January full moon Gichi-manidoo Giizis, the “Great Spirit Moon.” For the Ojibwe people January is a time to honour the silence, and recognize one’s place within all of Great Mystery’s creatures.

The Algonquin of the Great Lakes call it Squochee Kesos, “the Sun has not strength to thaw” Moon. Haida people of western Canada and Alaska use Táan Kungáay, the Bear Hunting Moon.  The Cree of North America call the January full Moon Opawahcikanasis, the “Frost Exploding Moon,” when trees crackle from the extreme cold temperatures. On the east coast of Canada, Mi’kmaq call this full Moon Punamujuiku’s, the “Tom Cod Spawning” Moon. For Europeans, the January full Moon is commonly known as the Wolf Moon, Old Moon or Moon after Yule. The Wolf Moon name might be derived from North American First Nations traditions, although some think it has an Anglo-Saxon origin. In either case, it’s likely that the wolves calling to one another in the dead of winter would leave an impression on anyone before our modern era.

Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the universe together.