The full moon of February, called the Snow Moon, will arrive Wednesday (Feb. 16) at 11:57 a.m. EST (0457 GMT). That same day, Mercury reaches its greatest distance west of the sun, making it a bright but challenging to observe “morning star” in mid-northern latitudes.
In New York City the full moon will rise at 5:32 p.m. local time, according to Time and Date — exactly the time of sunset, so from an area with a flat horizon (open fields or water are good candidates) one can watch the sunset and moonrise at the same time.
The moon will be in the constellation Leo, the lion, and by midnight it will reach a maximum elevation of 67.9 degrees in New York; the moon’s altitude will be similar in mid-northern latitudes. The farther south you are, the higher the moon’s elevation will be. In Miami, for example, the moon’s altitude at midnight will be about 83 degrees.
Related: Full moon names for 2022
The full moon happens when the moon is exactly on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. The timing of lunar phases depends on the position of the moon, rather than the position of the observer, which means that the time when the moon is full depends on one’s time zone. While in New York City the moon is full at 11:57 a.m., if you live in Madrid (six hours ahead) the full moon occurs at 5:57 p.m., which happens to be just before moonrise at 6:38 p.m. local time, according to Time and Date. In Melbourne, Australia, the full moon occurs at 3:57 a.m. on Feb. 17.
Full moons are an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes, but they can be a bit disappointing because the moon is so bright that the surface loses contrast. That is because there are no shadows to outline the moon’s features. That said, moon filters are available that can make some features stand out in telescopes. If you observe the moon a few days before or after the full moon, shadows bring out more detail.
The full moon happens the same day Mercury reaches its greatest distance, or elongation, west of the sun. On Feb. 16 the planet rises at 5:35 a.m. local time, according to Heavens-Above.com calculations. Since sunrise is at 6:48 a.m. that gives about an hour to see it — but in mid-northern latitudes that will be a challenge. At 6:30 a.m. in New York the planet will only be 9 degrees above the horizon.
Observers farther south will have a slightly easier time — in Galveston, Texas, for example, Mercury will be almost 11 degrees high by about 6:30 a.m., and the sun rises at 6:57 a.m. local time. Closer to the equator, in Honolulu, Hawaii (where the full moon occurs at 6:57 a.m. local time on Feb. 16), the sun rises at 7:01 a.m., while Mercury rises at 5:31 a.m. local time. By 6:30 a.m. the planet is a full 12 degrees high.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury is still higher in the sky — on Feb. 17 (when the full moon occurs there) the planet rises at 4:44 a.m. local time in Melbourne, Australia. Sunrise is at 6:51 a.m., and Mercury is about 18 degrees high by 6:20 a.m.
Venus will also be a “morning star,” and it will be much easier to see for people in the Northern Hemisphere than Mercury — in New York City our sister planet rises at 4:20 a.m. on Feb. 16, and by sunrise it has risen to 22 degrees, according to Heavens-Above. As a challenge you can try to see how close to sunrise you can spot Venus in the sky — the planet is bright, and in the evenings is one of the first “stars” most people see as the sky darkens.
Mars is also visible in the predawn sky, rising at 4:48 a.m. in New York and reaching an altitude of 17 degrees by sunrise. Both Venus and Mars are in the constellation Sagittarius, and the latter is recognizable by its reddish hue. Mars will be below Venus and will form a rough triangle with Mercury to the left.
Jupiter is visible in the evenings, but not for very long, as the planet sets shortly after sunset. In New York it will only be about 10 degrees above the horizon at sunset, in the constellation Aquarius, so picking it out against the sun’s glare will be challenging. Over the next month Jupiter will also move to the predawn sky, becoming prominent in late March.
The full moon shares the sky with a number of bright winter constellations. During February the constellation Orion, the hunter is visible almost all night, starting the evening high in the east-southeast. Near Orion are Taurus, the bull and Gemini, the twins. Just to the southeast of Orion is Canis Major, the Big Dog, which is home to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. All three constellations are bright enough that they don’t get overwhelmed by the full moon, even in urban areas.
How the “Snow Moon” got its name
According to the Ontario Native Literacy Project, the Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) peoples called the full moon of February Mikwa Giizis, the Bear Moon. The Cree called it the Kisipisim, or the Great Moon, because during this time of year “animals do not move around much, and trappers have little chance of catching them.”
The Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest call the February full moon S’eek Dís, or Black Bear Moon, while the Haida called it Hlgit’ún Kungáay, or “Goose moon,” according to the Tlingit Moon and Tide Teaching Resource published by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
In the Southern Hemisphere, where February is during the summer, the Māori of New Zealand described the lunar month in February to March (as measured between the successive new moons, with the full moon halfway between) as Poutū-te-rangi or “the crops are now harvested,” according to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
In China, the traditional lunar calendar calls the February lunation the first month, Zhēngyuè, and it is when the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated. In 2022 the night of the full moon (as seen in Beijing) falls on Feb. 17 at 12:57 a.m, two days after the Lantern Festival, which marks the high point of the traditional Chinese New Year festivities — many Chinese diaspora communities celebrate it as well.
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