- D.C. welcomes the smallest full moon of 2011 tonight, called the Hunter's Moon. It won't be much use for hunting anything other than sides of barns. Picture: A composite image of 1) the moon, and 2) the background field of stars. (T.A. Rector, I.P. Dell'Antonio, NOAO, AURA, NSF)
The so-called Hunter's Moon that rises over D.C. tonight will actually be lousy for hunting. It is the smallest full moon of the year, a lunar lardon in the swirling astral chowder, and will not illuminate any wild animal smaller than a musk ox. So hunters: Pack shotguns, and don't forget extra batteries for the light cannon.
The moon looks so puny because it is nearing its apogee, the farthest point it strays from earth each month. This year, the apogee is fixed 252,546 miles away from the mother planet. The situation is an exact reversal of the ballyhooed March 2011 Extreme Supermoon, when the lunar body achieved fullness at its closest point to earth (perigree) and supposedly triggered the Japanese earthquake through some gravitational magic, but not really. Nobody is making a fuss over tonight's Mildest Wimpymoon, oddly enough, despite the bonds of gravity between it and earth being stretched like taffy.
I guess if I was an astrologer, I might warn of super-stable grounds this evening. It will be a good time to play Jenga, perhaps.
The Hunter's Moon has a history that is still revered by many people, from a death-metal rock band out of "Hellbourne," Australia to Indiana reenactors celebrating the coming-together of Native Americans, French settlers and fur pelts. It has also inspired at least one face-punchingly awesome I.T. logo that involves a wolf.
The moon will become full at exactly 10:06 p.m. EDT, according to this excellent article by Space's Joe Rao, who notes that it will also look full on Wednesday because it's so far away we can't see the growing dark sliver at its edge. Rao says the moon will appear to be more than 12 percent littler than the March Supermoon.
Don't miss a gander at this freakishly wee moon. And while you're at it, check out Jupiter; as it will be gleaming brightly to the southwest of the moon after sunset.