• Jules-Pierre Malartre

The three moons of October, 2020


Though the full moon will appear only twice in the October skies this year, technically (and nominally) it will comprise three moon phases to behold.

October offers some of the best opportunities to stargaze before the weather gets too cold to stand outside to look skyward at stars and planets. The cool temperatures have served to settle the air and whatever you look at in the sky, whether it’s with the naked eye or through binoculars, will appear much sharper.

October is also the month this year that offers the most chances to gaze at the moon. We’ve all heard the expression ‘Once in a blue moon’ but what does it mean? Then there is the ‘Harvest Moon,’ and, lastly, the ‘Hunter’s Moon.’ What are we to make of all these moons? This is the perfect time to shed some light on these terms since October will play host to all three of these moons.

Let’s start with what all three have in common (besides all of them sharing our night sky this October) – all three are full moons.

The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to our autumnal equinox which marks the beginning of fall and on that day, night and day are of equal length. This means that either September’s or October’s full moon can take on the name. This year in Canada (and in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the US, Europe, and some parts of Africa, South America and Asia), the autumn equinox occurred on September 22. Therefore, the October 1 full moon is also 2020’s Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon won’t occur again in October until 2028. It will come back every year, but September will be its host until that date. The Harvest Moon may be behind us this year, but do not worry, an even more spectacular full moon still awaits us before the month is out.

The Hunter’s Moon is mentioned in several sources as the full moon of October. It coincides with the time when ancient tribes would gather food and prepare for the coming winter. Some also refer to it as the Blood Moon or the Sanguine Moon, which are references to the hunting season when game is fat and ready for the hunt. And this year, the Hunter’s Moon coincides with Halloween, which would lend the normally spooky holiday an additional eerie factor were it not for COVID-19 precluding the customary trick-or-treating. A full moon on Halloween is extremely rare, occurring only about every 18 or 19 years.

Since the month of October will play host to two full moons, the Halloween full moon will also be known as a Blue Moon; the term refers to the second full moon to occur within the same calendar month. (It can also refer to the third full moon to occur in a calendar season.) This explains why the expression is often used to describe a really rare occasion. This will indeed make October’s second full moon extra special; we may even call it the “Hunter’s Blue Moon on Halloween.” So, this is why October offers us (sorta) three moons.

If you can’t go trick or treating because of COVID-19, you can watch the spooky Halloween full moon instead. It will reach peak brilliance early during the day and should be readily visible. It will still be very bright come the evening for even better observing or for serving as a spooky mood enhancer for those who will make the best of trick-or-treating possibly being cancelled by binge watching their favourite horror flicks.