This is the “orange Moon” time of year. Or at least amber: a true honey Moon – not bright white at all. Several reasons: Humidity maxes out in the warm weather, and this reddens everything in the sky, especially near the horizon. And the Full Moon is now so low that it’s noteworthy. And did we mention, it’s also unusually big?
All this happens on Friday the 13th. Watch it rise just after sunset Friday, and you’ll see it big and orange. As the night goes on, it never climbs very high. It’s the lowest Moon of the year.
I used to think that this Full Moon of June was the origin of the word “honeymoon,” since it is amber, and also because weddings were traditionally held this month. But the honeymoon term seems unrelated to the June Moon’s amber appearance. Anyway, weddings are now most often held in August or September.
I lazily looked up “honeymoon” in Wikipedia, which cites the first known literary reference in 1552, in Richard Huloet’s Abecedarium Anglico Latinum. “Hony mone, a term proverbially applied to such as be newly married, which will not fall out at the first, but th’one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceadinge love appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people call the hony mone.”
In other words, like the phases of the Moon, a Full Moon is analogous to a wedding: the happiest time in a relationship, after which some of the brightness wanes. A sad thought. Let’s not carry that with us this weekend.
But do remember how low and yellow it is. Next December and January, if you again look at the Full Moon at its highest, it’ll hover nearly straight up.
As for the Friday the 13th, this happens once or twice a year, so it’s not particularly rare – although Full Moons land on that date only every 14 years, and “highest” or “lowest” Full Moons hit it much more rarely still.
Probing the origin of its supposed bad luck, the Friday part is obvious: It was the weekday that Christ died. But 13 is odder. The number is considered downright lucky in some countries and contexts. Nor is there any Biblical or classical Greek work in which 13 is denigrated. Globally, the number four is more often associated with bad luck – probably because its pronunciation in Mandarin is very similar to how you’d say the word for “death.”
Another draw is that the Moon, in its oval orbit, reaches its monthly near-point to Earth just one day later – on Saturday night. So Friday finds it larger than normal. This gets added to the fact that a low Moon always looks bigger anyway. It’s the famous Moon illusion. This psycho-optical effect is caused by placement next to distant earthly objects like chimneys, instead of being high and thus dwarfed within the sky’s vastness.
Finally, since June’s warm nights beckon folks to be outdoors at sporting events or evening strolls, it helps give this Moon extraordinary presence. It will get particularly noticed because people tend to look more or less straight ahead and not high up. So while winter Full Moons spend most of the night overhead, this Moon hovers in the visual field and gets seen – especially within one hour after it rises: at 9 p.m. Friday evening and 10 p.m. Saturday.
Oddly, there is no official name for this lowest and most amber Full Moon of the year. Some American colonists and the Algonquins called it the “Full Strawberry Moon,” but that term was used by no other tribe. In any case, the name never stuck, nor became official. How about if we just stick with Honey Moon?
Want to know more? To read Bob Berman’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.