The Wolf Moon shines tonight. Catch the smallest Full Moon of 2022

·5 min read
The Wolf Moon shines tonight. Catch the smallest Full Moon of 2022

Look up tonight to see the first of 2022's Full Moons — the Wolf Moon — crossing the sky.

Whatever you are up to tonight, if you have reasonably clear skies, spare a few moments to take in the splendour of the Moon. Rising just before sunset, the Full Wolf Moon will be up all night long and will slip below the western horizon just after the Sun rises. So, there is plenty of time to check it out.


The Old Farmer's Almanac lists several different names for the first Full Moon of the year. Of course, Wolf Moon is the most popular. However, they also include several others, such as Center Moon, Cold Moon, Greetings Moon, Hard Moon, Severe Moon, and Spirit Moon.

As the Almanac says: "The howling of wolves was often heard at this time of year. It was traditionally thought that wolves howled due to hunger, but we now know that wolves use howls to define territory, locate pack members, reinforce social bonds, and gather for hunting."

Many of these names are loose translations of terms or phrases given to the Moons by First Nations peoples, such as the Sioux (Wolves Run Together), the Assiniboine (Center Moon), the Cherokee (Cold Moon), the Abenaki (Greetings Maker Moon), the Lakota (Hard Moon), the Shawnee (Severe Moon), and the Chippewa and Ojibwe (Great Spirits Moon).


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Read more: Why is the Supermoon so compelling to us?


Most of us know about supermoons, when the Full Moon is closer and brighter than usual. However, have you heard about the 'micromoon'?

The Moon's orbit around Earth isn't a perfect circle. Instead, it traces out an ellipse, so for half its orbit it is closer than average and for the other half, it is farther than average. So, there's always a point when the Moon is closest, called perigee, and a point when it is farthest, called apogee. Supermoons happen when the Moon is full close to or at perigee, and since it's closer, the Moon looks larger and brighter. Micromoons are the opposite, occurring when the Moon is close to or at apogee. Being farther away, that makes the Full Moon appear smaller and dimmer.

Tonight's Wolf Moon just happens to be 2022's apogee micromoon — the farthest, smallest, and dimmest Full Moon for the entire year.

Although the exact number varies, there are usually three 'micro' Full Moons each year, like we saw in October and November of 2020.

2022 is rather remarkable because there is only one micro Full Moon this year, right at the beginning. We have to wait until 2023 to see the next one.


This graphic collects all the relevant data about each Full Moon of 2022, including their popular names, whether they are a 'super' or 'micro' Moon, a perigee or apogee Full Moon, as well as other remarkable info, like the Harvest Moon and lunar eclipses. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Scott Sutherland

The reason behind this is a simple matter of timing. Between one apogee micromoon and the next, there's a period of around 14 months (with similar timing between perigee supermoons). For example, the October 31, 2020 Full Moon was the apogee micromoon for that year, and the next apogee micromoon was in December of 2021. Thus, while the 2022 Wolf Moon happens to be the farthest of this year, it is only the third micromoon in the 'cluster' of three that started in November. After this we won't see another micromoon until January next year, with February's Snow Moon being 2023's apogee micromoon.

Read more: Eyes to the skies! Don't miss these beautiful winter astronomical events


Even though this Full Wolf Moon is the smallest Full Moon of the year, if you're seeing it just after it rises or shortly before it sets, you may not register that fact to start. This is due to a little trick of the mind known as The Moon Illusion.

The human brain gauges the size and distance of objects by comparing them to other things directly around them. The Moon technically doesn't have anything directly around it, at least not that we can perceive with the naked eye. However, our brains still try to put the Moon into perspective by comparing it to objects in the foreground of our field of view — trees, buildings, etc. As it tries to fit the Moon into that context, the brain interprets it as being much larger than it truly is.

ugc calgary full moon
ugc calgary full moon

This Full Moon rose over Calgary, AB, on September 13, 2019. Credit: Siv Heang

This illusion is so deeply ingrained into our brain that it's a real challenge to see past it. Even if you know that it's just a trick, it often doesn't matter. You will still see the Moon as being bigger than it really is.

We have a couple of tricks of our own you can try, though, which may cancel out the illusion (at least temporarily).

First, when observing the Moon early in the evening, when it is near the horizon, stretch out your arm in front of you, close one eye, and cover over the Moon's face with the tip of a finger or thumb. Try to pick a digit that most closely matches the size of the Moon. Later on, when the Moon is higher in the sky and appears smaller, repeat this process using the same finger or thumb. Again, it should appear exactly the same size compared to that digit, revealing that, even as it looked larger earlier and smaller now, it's actually the same size at both times.

The second trick relies upon technology. While the Moon is near the horizon, looking huge to the naked eye, take out your cellphone, open up your camera app, and look at the Moon on the screen. Comparing what you see directly with how it appears on the small screen often cancels the illusion. However, if you snap some pictures and then look at them later (especially if you transfer them to a larger computer screen), the Moon will probably appear bigger again. That's how powerful the Moon illusion is!

If you do take pictures, why not load them up into our UGC gallery, so the rest of us can see them, too?

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