The Wolf Moon, the Penumbral Lunar Eclipse & the Many Moons of 2020

If you are looking at the sky this weekend, you will notice that we are experiencing the 1st full moon of the year. The January full moon is known as the “Wolf Moon”. The weekend’s full moon was also unique because a lunar eclipse took place.

The lunar eclipse took place on the night of the 10th and 11th; but unfortunately it was not view-able for almost the entire United States, only eastern Maine saw the eclipse in the lower 48 and Alaska. The eclipse occurred mostly in the eastern hemisphere in the continents of Africa, Europe, Australia & Asia, with small portions of South & North America able to see it. What makes the 1st full moon a bit more special, is that it was a penumbral lunar eclipse.

A penumbral lunar eclipse is when the moon crosses into the earth’s outer shadow or penumbral. A total lunar eclipse, on the other hand, is when the moon passes through the earth’s inner shadow or umbra. The prenumbral lunar eclipse just makes the moon slightly change colors to a light yellow, compared to red in a total lunar eclipse. This type of eclipse is the most difficult to detect, as only a sliver of the moon is darken by the earth and it almost looks like a regular full moon.

Don’t worry though, 3 more penumbral eclipses are in store for the rest of 2020. The next one will be during the June full moon on June 5, which unfortunately will not be seen at all in North America. Our luck finally changes for the last 2 eclipses of the year; as Delmarva and the lower 48 will see the 1st one as the fireworks end on July 5th, and at the 2nd by the end of November on the 30th.

Another interesting thing about this month’s full moon, is that the moon is located on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. Due to the position of the 3 celestial objects; this will give the moon a northerly appearance in the sky over the northern hemisphere and will follow the sun’s path during the summer solstice. The moon will climb to its highest angle in the sky at the halfway point between moonrise and moonset, which is 75° (also the highest angle at solar noon during the summer solstice) in Salisbury, MD. The opposite happens in the southern hemisphere, in which the moon’s path follows the winter solstice trajectory in the sky, at its lowest angle during its highest point in the sky.

The reason the January full moon is referred to as the “wolf moon”, its because of the increased amount of howls during the winter months. The reason for the increased howls is likely due to defend territory, locate other members of a pack and for hunting.  The howls during the winter also last longer than during the summer. The January full moon is also referred to as the Ice Moon, or the Old Moon. It’s also questioned if the Snow Moon is either the name for the full moon for January or February.

2020 will consist of 13 full moons, with October having 2 full moons and the 2nd of those moons (or Blue Moon) happening on Halloween. Hopefully the weather will cooperate for the viewing of the full moons and the lunar eclipses this year. Don’t forget to send those weather and astronomy pictures to our storm team at


Categories: Weather Blog