Tonight Jan. 26 the Full Wolf Moon will crest the horizon around sunset and appear high in the southern sky in the constellation Cancer around midnight. If you want to know exactly when the moon will rise for your location, click HERE and select your city.
January’s full moon is named for the wolves that are active this time of year hunting and looking for mates. Wolves howl for many reasons including to let the pack know their location, as a rallying cry to gather the pack together and to warn other wolf packs to keep off their territory.
We’ve come to associate wolf howling with the full moon but studies have shown there’s no direct connection between the phase of the moon and howling. Maybe it’s the way they point their muzzles to the moon and stars that makes us think they’re directing their calls to the sky. Wolves are just taking advantage of good acoustics. If you point your face upward and howl, your voice will carry much farther. Wolf howls can travel up to 6 miles in the forest and 10 miles across open terrain.
I said there was no direct link between full moon and howling frequency, but a bright moon makes hunting at night easier by providing a brighter light than say, a crescent moon. So yes, when wolves are actively hunting and howling, we might hear them more often during near-full or full moons.
I don’t know if it’s hidden in our DNA, but I’ve known lots of people over the years who’ve attempted to communicate with wolves – or get their dogs stoked up – by imitating a wolf howl. If you’ve ever wanted to howl but needed a few tips, I recommend this humorous 2-minute video.
The full moon will be spectacularly bright as always. Outside of the sun, it’s the brightest celestial object in the sky. Funny though. Astronomers have measured the light reflected by the moon and found it’s a near perfect match to the a freshly-paved asphalt parking lot.
It appears bright compared to the darkness of the sky. Our eyes also become more sensitive to dim light at night, contributing to the impression of the moon’s brilliance. Like other animals including wolves, we’re equipped with night-vision “goggles” in the form of some 120 million “rod” cells in our eyes. They’re far more numerous and much more sensitive than the “cones” we use for daytime vision.
The moment of full moon – when the moon is directly opposite the sun – happens at 10:38 p.m. (CST) tonight. That’s when the entire half of the moon facing Earth will be flooded with light. The shadows of mountains and craters that characterize the moon during its other phases will be absent … or nearly so. Ironically, a completely shadowless moon is only possible when the moon is exactly opposite the sun, at which time it moves into Earth’s shadow during a total lunar eclipse.
Because the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees with respect to Earth, it usually passes north or south of this ideal sun-Earth-moon line. Tonight it will be a full 5 degrees south of that line at the moment of full moon. If you have a small telescope, look at the moon around that time. You’ll notice shadows of mountain walls and craters within its northern limb or edge. Oh, and don’t forget to let out a howl of delight when you do.
If you’re looking to enhance your full moon experience, check out my 10 Ways to Enjoy a full moon.