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May’s full flower moon will light up the sky this week

In this Thursday, May 7, 2020 photo, the flower moon is framed by the lighted arches of the West Wind Solano Drive-In in Concord, Calif.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group) In this Thursday, May 7, 2020 photo, the flower moon is framed by the lighted arches of the West Wind Solano Drive-In in Concord, Calif. (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group)
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Stargazers are in for a treat this week: The full moon returns for its May engagement, peaking on Thursday morning.

May’s full moon is known as the flower moon, a reference to its appearance in late spring, when many flowering plants begin to bloom again after their winter slumber. The glowing orb will reach maximum illumination on Thursday at 9:53 a.m. ET, according to NASA.

The best time to view the moon, though, is at night on Wednesday and Thursday, since it will be below the horizon during its peak in some regions, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The flower moon will begin to rise after sunset on Wednesday, reaching its highest point after midnight, per EarthSky.

In some parts of the world, including the Washington, DC area, the full moon will come so close to the bright star Antares on Thursday night that the star will appear to vanish behind the moon, according to NASA.

The flower moon name is thought to have originated among the Algonquin who live in Canada and parts of the northeastern United States, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. But ancient groups coined several creative names for May’s full moon that mark the arrival of warmer weather and the new life that grows during the spring.

Its old English name is “milk moon,” according to NASA, a reference to the archaic English word for the month we now call May. The eighth-century monk St. Bede the Venerable referred to May as the month of three milkings –– in the medieval era, people believed that cows could be milked at least three times daily in late spring.

Other names for May’s full moon include “frog moon,” from the Cree of Canada’s North Plains — likely a nod to the spring peeper frog and its birdlike chirp, which is a harbinger of warm weather. The Dakota and Lakota people of the U.S. Great Plains also called the celestial spectacle the “planting moon” to mark the agricultural practice of planting in the spring for a healthy harvest.

The flower moon played a minor role in a particularly dark period of U.S. history. Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar-nominated historical drama “Killers of the Flower Moon” explores a series of murders of Osage people in Oklahoma. The killings began in May 1921, the month of the flower moon.

Remaining moons of 2024

Of the 12 full moons this year, the September and October lunar events will be considered supermoons, according to EarthSky.

Definitions of a supermoon can vary, but the term generally denotes a full moon that is closer to Earth than normal and thus appears larger and brighter in the night sky. Some astronomers say the phenomenon occurs when the moon is within 90% of perigee — its closest approach to Earth in orbit.

Here are the remaining full moons of the year:

  • June 21: Strawberry moon
  • July 21: Buck moon
  • August 19: Sturgeon moon
  • September 17: Harvest moon
  • October 17: Hunter’s moon
  • November 15: Beaver moon
  • December 15: Cold moon

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