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The first full moon of 2021 — the "Wolf Moon" — shines bright in the sky tonight

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The first full moon of the year will light up the night sky on Thursday, January 28, 2021. But you won't have to wait until the middle of the night to see it — the full "Wolf Moon" moon reaches peak illumination in the afternoon.

Why is it called the Wolf Moon?

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, January's full moon is often referred to as the "wolf moon" as a reference to wolves that used to howl at night around this time of year, although it remains unclear if the name stemmed from a Native American tribe, as moon names typically do. 

There is a large number of other names used to describe this month's moon, including Candles Moon, Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, Center Moon, Cold Moon, Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon, Severe Moon and Hard Moon, among others. 

"From what I have learned about traditional names given to full Moons prior to the introduction of modern timekeeping, local leaders would usually decide on the name of the Moon based on conditions at the time. These cultures did not generally need calendars that specify exact dates far in advance," NASA's Gordon Johnson said this week, explaining the large number of names. "Full Moon names were used to describe and remember what happened in the past and to remind of what was likely to come in the near future. Also, there are many different Native American names for the full Moons."

Waxing Moon In Cloudy Sky
Two days before the full wolf moon, the moon appears between the clouds in the sky over Aachen, Germany, on January 26, 2021.  Wassilios Aswestopoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When to spot the Wolf Moon

Under clear conditions, the full Wolf Moon will be visible starting at 2:16 p.m. ET. It will continue to shine brightly throughout the night, visible once it rises above the horizon around sunset.

To spot the best view of the moon, look up your local moonrise and moonset times, and find a clear area to take in a large view of the sky. Don't worry if you miss it on Thursday — the moon will appear full for several days, through early Saturday morning. 

Skywatching in 2021 may not be as dramatic as last year's Comet NEOWISE or Great Conjunction, but it does promise a few spectacular moons. Unlike 2020, which saw 13 full moons, 2021 will have the typical 12 full moons:

  • February 27: Snow moon
  • March 28: Worm moon
  • April 26: Pink moon
  • May 26: Flower moon
  • June 24: Strawberry moon
  • July 23: Buck moon
  • August 22: Sturgeon moon
  • September 20: Harvest moon
  • October 20: Hunter's moon
  • November 19: Beaver moon
  • December 18: Cold moon
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