Strawberries With Your Full Moon

Tonight’s full moon rises only 4° east of the planet Jupiter in the constellation Ophiuchus. Together they’ll make a truly eye-catching sight. Click the image to find the time of moonrise for your location. Stellarium

Mmm … wild strawberries. Store-bought berries may make your eyes pop, but the wild version wins when it comes to flavor. I haven’t found any wild ones just yet, but I’ve seen so many blossoms it won’t be long. To herald the start of the berry-picking season, tonight’s Full Strawberry Moon will rise all pink and pretty shortly before sunset.

A slightly squished, orange full moon shortly after moonrise. Notice the edge coloration and choppy distortions caused by layers of different densities of air — binoculars will show these details clearly. Bob King

Like a berry, it’s squishable. Around moonrise the thicker, denser air nearer the horizon lower refracts or “lifts up” the bottom of the moon into the top, squeezing it into a watermelon shape. In case you didn’t know watermelons are true berries and strawberries are not according to the scientific definition, but we won’t quibble about it. Before long the moon rounds into a crisp circle as refraction lessens with increasing altitude.

A full moon is alway opposite the sun in the sky and rises close to sunset. Tonight’s moon rises a bit earlier because it’s not quite full. Official “fullness” happens tomorrow morning (June 17) at 3:30 a.m. Central Time. Your calendar probably says that the full moon is tomorrow, which is technically correct, but at least for the Americas, the moon will appear fuller tonight by a hair compared to tomorrow night. Most of us won’t detect a difference between the two.

Jupiter and its four moons tonight June 16. North is up. Stellarium

One of the delights of this month’s full moon is that it rises alongside the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is one of the brightest planets and the two together will make a wonderful sight. Bring binoculars not only to see the effects of air layering and turbulence along the moon’s edge, but once Jupiter climbs a little higher, you should be able to make out 2 or possible three of its satellites in a tiny line to the lower right of the planet. A small telescope will show four. So let’s see, that means there are five planetary moons visible in the sky tonight within a few degrees of each other!

Another thing you’ll notice about tonight’s moon, especially if you live in the mid-northern latitudes, is how low the full moon during the summer months. From my home the moon will only climb to 21° altitude or two fists above the southern horizon. That’s low enough that it still retains a hint of yellow throughout its nightly arc unlike that icy, white stare in the winter months.

When the sun rides high in the sky around the time of the summer solstice (which happens on the June 21st), the full moon, located directly opposite the sun, rides low. Matter of fact, tonight’s moon occupies nearly the same spot the sun will on Dec. 15. In December, the full moon and sun swap places.

Wishing you clear skies and bountiful strawberry picking. Oh, and happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there — enjoy your full moon!