Smallest Full Moon of 2011 Rises Tuesday

A full moon in Stockholm, Sweden in 1900.
A full moon in Stockholm, Sweden in 1900. The image was made with an old photography technique called cyanotype, which tinted everything blue. (Image credit: The Swedish National Heritage Board)

The moon will be full but small on Tuesday (Oct. 11) as Earth's rocky companion swings wide in its orbit around the planet.

October's Full Hunter Moon nearly coincides with the apogee of the moon's orbit, or the point at which the moon is farthest from Earth. That makes October's full moon appear smaller than usual, the opposite of the "supermoon" effect that occurred in March when the moon was full during its closest approach to Earth.

The moon will be at peak fullness at 10:06 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (2:06 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time) on Oct. 11. Shortly thereafter, at 8:00 a.m. EDT, the moon will be at its farthest point from Earth, which it reaches once a month. The moon's orbit is elliptical rather than perfectly circular, which is why the distance from Earth to the moon varies by tens of thousands of miles depending on the time of month and year. The moon's orbit is also always slightly in flux because of differing effects of the sun's gravity.

During March's "supermoon," the full moon was 221,565 miles (356,575 kilometers) away from Earth. October's full moon will be 252,546 miles (406,434 km) away.

Moon mythology

This month's moon is known as the Hunter's Moon, which is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon, in turn is the moon closest to the autumnal equinox. This year, the Harvest Moon fell on Sept. 12.

The Hunter's Moon is also dubbed the "blood moon" or "sanguine moon." The moon itself isn't any bloodier than usual, but both European and Native American hunters used to use the moon's extra light to stalk their prey by night.

Nicknames like the "blood moon" are only the tip of the iceberg of lunar myths. Cultures from the ancient Greeks to the Aztecs to the Mesopotamians held to folklore about the moon, often assigning a deity to the heavenly body. The Greek Titan Selene took on the role in ancient Greece; she was renamed Luna in Rome and succeeded by the Olympian goddess Artemis, also known as Diana. Perhaps fitting for this month's full moon, Diana was the goddess of the hunt.

In Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago, the moon god was in charge of all other gods. Named Sin or Nanna, his trademark steed was a bull. Meanwhile, to the ancient Aztecs, the moon was the head of the goddess Coyolxauhqui. Coyolxauhqui plotted to kill her pregnant mother, but as she prepared to do the deed, her infant brother sprang from the womb (full-grown, of course) and killed her instead. He dismembered her and sent her head flying into space, where it became the moon.

Nowadays, some people still hold superstitions about the moon, believing, for example, that full moons make people act crazy.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.