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Look up, and you just might catch the harvest moon in the night sky

Things to know about the harvest moon

In the northern hemisphere, the harvest moon if the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. This year's harvest moon appeared on Thursday, Oct. 5.
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In the northern hemisphere, the harvest moon if the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. This year's harvest moon appeared on Thursday, Oct. 5.

If you were outside just after sunset Thursday night, you were in for a treat: the first full harvest moon to fall in October since 2009.

The harvest moon is what the full moon is called when it happens within two weeks of the autumnal equinox. That usually falls on — or near — Sept. 22, meaning harvest moons are usually in September, too.

Harvest moons get their name from their ability to light up fields for farmers working late to wrap up their harvest before winter, according to EarthSky.org. The term has been used in Europe as far back as the 18th century.

And because the moon’s orbit is slightly tilted compared with Earth’s, for a handful of days around the autumnal equinox the moon rises closer to sunset in much of the U.S., according to National Geographic. That means visibly brighter moons, which often look rotund and orange just after nightfall.

Beyond that, there’s not much that differentiates harvest moons from regular moons — beyond the time of year.

“The harvest moon is a full moon, but not one that really provides any specific unique-viewing opportunity — other than that you might have great observing from a pumpkin patch,” says Andrea Jones, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter public engagement lead at NASA told National Geographic.

But if you missed it Thursday, the moon will be almost full through the weekend, unless cloud cover gets in the way, according to USA TODAY.

Be aware that the moon looks the biggest when it’s lowest in the sky, so early in the night is the best time to see it. Earlier in the evening — around dusk — is also when it’s most likely to look red or orange, according to ABC, due to low-hanging dust and clouds in the sky.

jgilmour@mcclatchy.com

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