What Is a Harvest Moon?

There are names for all the full moons that occur throughout the year (seriously, we collected all the full moon names in one place), but the harvest moon is a little bit different. It’s based not on the month it falls within, but proximity to the autumnal equinox.

There are a few other curiosities about this particular full moon — especially in 2023, when the Northern Hemisphere will see the harvest moon overlap with the supermoon and a take on sunset-like hue. Read on to find out when to see this year’s harvest moon and learn some fun (yet relevant!) pop culture trivia.

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What Is a Full Harvest Moon?

The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, typically in late September or early October. Typically, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day, but the same doesn’t go for harvest moons. The rising harvest moon appears in the night sky about 25 minutes later than the previous night’s moon — a much shorter time between moonrises.

This happens because of shallow angle between the moon’s orbit and Earth’s horizon, creating a quicker moonrise.

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This phenomenon provides extra moonlight during evenings, which traditionally helped farmers gather crops late into the night and could give surfers better conditions to ride waves under the bright moonlight. The harvest moon is a practical ally, offering extended daylight-like hours for these activities during the transition from summer to fall.

When Is This Year’s Harvest Moon?

According to Almanac, in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere you can catch the 2023 harvest moon rising shortly after sunset on Thursday, Sept. 28, then reach peak illumination at 5:58 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 29. This also marks the last supermoon of the year.

You may notice a red tint on the bright moon for the same reason you see the sun appears redder as it sets on the horizon: atmospheric scattering. As the sun (or moon) sinks lower, its light passes through more of Earth’s atmosphere. This scatters shorter wavelengths in the visible spectrum — like blue and green — leaving the longer red wavelengths to reach our eyes.

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Flipping the Script in the Southern Hemisphere

Our friends Down Under get a harvest moon in March or April, rather than September or October. Also, rather than the time shortening between the harvest moon and the previous night’s moon, the time between actually gets longer.

Again, this is due to the angle between the moon and the horizon, but the tilt of Earth’s axis means that this angle is wider in the Southern Hemisphere, rather than shallower as we see in the Northern Hemisphere.

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September and the Corn Moon

The September full moon is sometimes called the corn moon or barley moon. These names derive from the time when the staple crops are ready for harvesting, signifying a period of abundance and preparation for the upcoming harvest season.

The corn moon is characterized by its slightly golden appearance in the night sky, reflecting the significance of corn in both modern farming communities and Native American cultures.

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September’s Full Moon in Pop Culture

Disney fans — 90s kids in particular — may remember the “blue corn moon” from the “Pocahontas” song “Colors of the Wind.” This isn’t a reference to blue corn (which is a real thing) but to a second full moon in September.

The second full moon in a calendar month is a blue moon, and September’s full moon is the corn moon, hence the blue corn moon.

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This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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