On Feb. 26 and 27 we'll see the Snow Moon rise big and orange around sunset. To find out when the moon rises for your location, click here. I list two dates because it's fullest around 2 a.m. Central Time on Feb. 27. So if you're out Friday night the 26th, the moon will be about 7 hours from full and appear slightly more filled out than on the 27th, when it's about 17 hours after full moon. Details, details.
Snow Moon is a perfectly fitting name for February's full moon, but where I live in the northern Midwest, the native Ojibwe people call it Namebini-giizis (nah-MAY-bi-NAY-GE-zis) which means Sucker-fish (Namebini) Moon (giizis).
The story goes that the Ojibwe were starving one bitter-cold winter. Namebini, the sucker-fish, took pity on them and appealed to the Great Spirit. The fish offered to help feed the tribe by sacrificing some of its own. The Great Spirit was impressed with the selfless offer and gifted the species with great fertility so it could provide for the native people as well as increase its own number and prosper. The Ojibwe honor the deed in February's full moon.
This weekend moon will rise around sunset in the constellation Leo the lion. Once it gets above the trees and rounds out, I have an observing challenge for you. It's an easy one that will test your visual acuity, while also offering an opportunity to become more familiar with lunar landmarks.
All you have to do is face the moon and refer to the photo below. I've numbered and identified nine lunar seas and two of the most prominent craters visible around the time of full moon. The numbers are ordered from easiest to hardest. If you can spot 1 through 6 you've done well, but I suspect you'll do even better.
What's nice about the moon is that you can see it from downtown Chicago as easily as the countryside. No one is at a disadvantage. If the weather looks uncertain on either full moon night, go out the night before or after.
The seas, also called maria (MAH-ree-uh), are enormous basins blasted out by asteroids between 3.1 and 3.9 billion years ago during a period of intense bombardment. Later, basaltic magmas rose up from cracks in these gouges and filled them full of molten rock which hardened to form the "seas". At least that's what they looked like to our ancestors. Now, we know their true nature.
Both Copernicus (58 miles / 93 km diameter) and Tycho (53 miles / 85 km) sit at the center of huge ray systems that look like splats of spilled milk. Rays form when rocks ejected during the crater's formation fall back to the surface and make craters of their own. Newly-excavated craters expose lighter lunar soils underneath, the reason rays look bright compared to other areas on the moon.
Although this is designed as a naked-eye challenge, you can use binoculars to either confirm what you see or to help pinpoint the location of a feature you're not sure about, so you can then look for it without optical aid.
Good luck! And let us know how you do by leaving a comment on Astro Bob's Astronomy for Everyone on Facebook.
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more of his work at duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.