Don’t Miss Tonight’s Not-so-snowy Full Snow Moon

The Full Snow Moon will be out tonight near the sickle-shaped head of Leo the Lion. Maps created with Stellarium

Tonight the Full Snow Moon will cast a hard, white eye over a land steeped in deep and silent drifts of snow. Or maybe not. It may be different by you, but we have next to no snow here in Duluth. Two inches in the woods, and a few small piles downtown. A guy can hardly find a trail to ski on.

The Snow Moon, named by the American Indians after the month’s most copious commodity, will shine near Leo the Lion’s brightest star Regulus. Look for it to rise directly opposite the sun near the time of sunset and pass due south around midnight. Another name for February’s full moon is the Full Hunger Moon, referring to how difficult it could be for native peoples to find food in the middle of winter.

Tonight’s moon is the same part of the sky as the sun in mid-August each year. In late summer the sun is rapidly moving south in the sky, rising noticeably later and setting earlier each day.

Look for Mars and the moon together this Thursday Feb. 9.

What’s true for the sun also applies to the moon. It quickly moves south this week, rising more than an hour later with each passing night. Moonrise times vary more dramatically than those for the sun, because the moon revolves around the Earth in under a month, zipping from one end of the sky to the other. The sun needs an entire year to do the same. That’s how long we take to revolve around it. By Thursday, moonless darkness returns as the moon pops up a half hour after twilight ends. When it does, it will have a companion – the planet Mars.

Mercury is right next to the sun today and lost in its glare. Fortunately, the coronagraph on the orbiting SOHO observatory can see it by using a metal disk to occult or block the sun. Credit: NASA/ESA

As you may have already noticed, we’ve got a new bright planet emerging in the eastern sky around 9 o’clock. Mars’ welcome red hue livens up the cold nights. I saw it shining above the paltry remnants of a cross country ski trail recently; it made me feel good this little planet is once again nearing Earth. Mercury is also on the move – that’s what planets do after all – with today marking its superior conjunction with the sun.

The photo above was taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory earlier this morning. Superior conjunction means Mercury is lined up on the opposite side of the sun from Earth and at its most distant from us. Inferior conjunction occurs when the planet is between us and the sun.

Be patient. Mercury will move rapidly to the left of the sun in the coming weeks and by month’s end be easy to spot in the western sky during twilight. Northern hemisphere sky watchers can look forward to one of its best appearances of the year.

13 Responses

  1. les

    Sooooo once again i hear about solar flares and polar caps and eartg things like poles switching….any updates on these???

    1. astrobob

      Yes, solar flares on the far western side of the sun are happening, but they’re not directed toward Earth. Keep in mind that flares are a very common occurrence. The magnetic poles will eventually switch sooner or later but no one can say for sure when it’s going to happen.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Lynn,
      Yes, it could affect us and the birds, too. Compasses needles would point in the opposite direction, and animals like birds that rely to some degree on Earth’s magnetic field would also be affected. Of course, since reversals take from one to a few thousand years, we could adjust our compasses accordingly, and the birds might even find their way just fine through adaptation. In the last 10 million years there have been about 45 magnetic field reversals. The last one was 800,000 years ago. The Earth’s magnetic field does offer protection from blasts from the sun, but its strength lessens during reversals. I’ve read that our atmosphere will still filter out most of the dangerous high-speed particles that might come our way during solar storms during a reversal.

  2. David

    Well hello there Bob… How have you been? Its been a while since ive wrote you. I have a ? I noticed 2nights ago the the moon had a ring around it and it was amazing to see… Can you tell me what it was?

    1. astrobob

      Hey David,
      You saw a lunar halo caused by refraction of moonlight by millions of hexagon-shaped ice crystals in high cirrus-cirrostratus clouds.

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