Last Sunday’s summer solstice is followed by a special full Strawberry Moon on Thursday, June 24—and it all affects us! Learn more about the lowest full Moon of 2021—and why we expect it to be one of the most colorful (but not the color of a strawberry!). Here are interesting facts and viewing tips from Almanac astronomer Bob Berman.
In 2021, June’s full Moon will appear full on June 23, 24, and 25 (Wednesday through Friday). Technically, it reaches peak illumination at 2:40 P.M. Eastern Time on June 24, but will not be visible until later that evening, when it drifts above the horizon. Consult our Moonrise and Moonset Calculator to see what time it rises in your location.
The Lowest Full Moon of 2021
It’s the lowest full Moon of the year, standing a measly 20 degrees high on Thursday and Friday nights when it reaches its apex at around 1 AM. What does this mean for viewers?
Look for a clear horizon for this lowest of Full Moons, one that’s not blocked by hills, trees, or neighbors’ houses. The Full Moon appears in the lowest-down zodiac constellation—Sagittarius—which looks very much like a teapot.
The Moon will be one of the most colorful. Why? Because low Moons must shine through the thickest possible air, our atmosphere’s reddening effect often gives it an amber or honey color.
Here’s an interesting question: Since weddings were once traditionally held in June, could this month’s honey-hued full Moons be the origin of “Honeymoon?” Scholars think not, but nonetheless see it for yourself if you have middle-of-night insomnia Thursday night.
Is is a Supermoon?
Despite the mass media hype, the June 2021 full Moon does not qualify as a supermoon for most of us astronomers (Almanac, NASA, etc). Frankly, the entire “supermoon” term isn’t an astrononical one at all; it’s a catchy name that refers to perigee (the point in the Moon’s orbit where it is closest to Earth).
To avoid having every other moon called a “supermoon,” the Almanac (and others) defines a full Moon as being a supermoon if it is less than 224,000 miles (360,000 kilometers) away from Earth. The June full Moon misses that cut-off point. See more.
Why It’s Called the Strawberry Moon
June’s full Moon—typically the last full Moon of spring or the first of summer—is traditionally called the Strawberry Moon. This name has been used by Algonquin, Ojibwe, Dakota, and Lakota peoples, among others, to mark the ripening of “June-bearing” strawberries that are ready to be gathered. The Haida term Berries Ripen Moon reflects this as well. As flowers bloom and early fruit ripens, June is a time of great abundance for many.
It’s tempting to think the low height of this Moon and its consequent ruddiness naturally gave rise to naming it after a red fruit. Not the case! It’s simply a reference to the seasonal cues, as Native Americans would tie the lunar calendar to what was happening in nature.
If you have some Native American ancestry, then you may find it interesting that the Oglala Sioux called this time of year the “Moon of Making Fat” because this is the time when the Sun is highest and the growing power of the world is strongest. The Osage Nation called it “The Moon When the Buffalo Bulls Are Rutting,” though good luck waiting to hear your favorite TV meteorologist make that announcement. And there are lots more names too.
Colonial Americans called it the Strawberry Moon, too, but some also alluded to the June Full Moon as “the Rose Moon.” And many others labeled it – (bugle call!) – the Honey Moon!! Name the Moon whatever fits your seasons! It’s not an astronomical term, just one rich in history and folklore.
The Sun at Its Highest
The Moon, of course, stands opposite the Sun. And while the Moon is at its lowest, the Sun is at its highest during the weeks after the summer solstice.
True, in a major turnaround from the past half year, days are now growing shorter! But only by a few seconds daily. The good news is that we have more hours of daylight in June (during our summer) than in December (our winter).
However, we can also keep counting on the 1 PM sun to hover within 20 degrees of the exact zenith, zapping us with its greatest strength of the year. We now burn and tan fastest, and our shadows are at their minimum.
The other realities are that the Sun now rises at its farthest-left spot (considerably north of due east) on the horizon, and then sets at its farthest-right position (considerably north of due west). This makes sunlight stream into windows at angles seen at no other time of the year.
This odd solar behavior was not lost on numerous classical civilizations, especially those that obsessively watched the sky like the Mayans and Aztecs, while it was largely ignored by cultures for whom science and the sky held no particular fascination, like Eastern Europe and Africa.