Wildfire smoke could turn this weekend’s full Buck Moon an ominous blood red

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A total lunar eclipse turns the moon red in Auckland, New Zealand on May 26.

A full Buck Moon is rising this weekend, and it may appear orange or blood red in skies across North America.

Normally, the moon turns orange or red during an eclipse, when Earth blocks sunlight and our atmosphere reflects red light onto the lunar surface instead. But this time is unusual. Instead of being eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, the moon may be eclipsed in many places by layers of smoke.

Wildfires have exploded across the Pacific Northwest over the last month, fueled by dry vegetation and a series of heat waves made possible by the warming climate. The largest, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, has grown to nearly twice the size of New York City and started generating its own weather.

The blazes are sending smoke roiling across the continent, prompting air-quality alerts from Minnesota to North Carolina and tinting skies orange as far east as New York and Washington, DC.

north america map shows black carbon soots across northwest northeast central US
A map shows the concentration of black carbon particulates (aka soot) over North America on July 21, 2021.

That’s because the particles in wildfire smoke block shorter wavelengths of sunlight – the blues and greens – and allow the longer, redder wavelengths to pass through. The moon will be no exception to this paintbrush of sweeping smoke.

“When you do have wildfire smoke, especially high up in the atmosphere, you typically do see your moon kind of turn reddish or orange,” Jesse Berman, an assistant professor in environmental health at the University of Minnesota, where he studies extreme weather and air pollution, told Insider.

If the smoke is low and thick enough, it could block out the moon entirely. But, Berman said, “it’s very likely that any area experiencing a wildfire-smoke exposure can see this red or orange moon.”

orange moon next to empire state building spire
The moon, appearing orange due to smoke haze from forest fires, passes the spire of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York City, July 20, 2021.

The moon will appear full Thursday night through Sunday morning, peaking on Friday night, according to NASA.

In the month of July, the full moon is often called the Buck Moon. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this name comes from the Algonquin peoples, who share a family of languages and originate from the area that today ranges from New England as far west as Lake Superior. The name refers to buck deer’s antlers emerging in summer.

Widespread wildfire smoke could become common

oregon bootleg fire burns trees hazy skies
The Bootleg Fire burns through vegetation near Paisley, Oregon, July 20, 2021.

Wildfires that produce continent-sweeping smoke clouds could become annual events, if not occurring “multiple times every single year,” Berman said.

“We do expect these events to become not only more frequent, but possibly more severe in the future as our climate tends to shift towards drier conditions, to hotter conditions, to areas where you have less frequent rainfall,” he added. “Every one of these wildfire events is an opportunity for that smoke to travel long distances and affect not only the people nearby, but also those very far away.”

bootleg fire oregon pyrocumulonimbus clouds
A drone photographed this pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, over the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon on July 14, 2021.

If smoke stays high in the atmosphere, it probably won’t affect air quality for people on the ground. However, it sometimes falls back down and fills the air we breathe with hazardous particles – hundreds or even thousands of miles from the fire that created it.

The microscopic particles in wildfire smoke can penetrate deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream. Research has connected wildfire-particle pollution to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death.

In healthy people short-term, it can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause wheezing, coughs, or difficulty breathing. Young children, the elderly, and people with preexisting conditions like asthma or COPD are particularly vulnerable to more serious effects.

As smoke wafts over his Minnesota home, Berman has had his two young children play inside instead of going to the park. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping doors and windows closed when wildfire smoke is impacting air quality, and designating a “clean room” with a portable air cleaner and no cooking, smoking, or candle-burning.

“Right now, nothing has shown that the conditions are going to become markedly better in the future,” Berman said. “Instead, we’re really predicting that conditions are going to continue to get worse.”

“It doesn’t matter where you’re living,” he continued. “You can be affected by these events the same as anyone else.”

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A Strawberry Moon is rising Thursday evening – your last chance to see a supermoon this year

supermoon rises yellow over hill where cyclist holds up cellphone
A cyclist uses a cellphone to photograph the full moon, known as the “Super Flower Moon” as it rises over Arguineguin, in the south of Gran Canaria, Spain May 26, 2021.

  • A Strawberry Moon will rise on Thursday night. It’s named for the strawberry harvest, not for color.
  • It may be the last visible supermoon of 2021, though that is up for debate.
  • The name “Strawberry Moon” comes from the Anishnaabe, Sioux, and Algonquin peoples of North America.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A big, bright Strawberry Moon will crawl across the sky on Thursday night.

It’s also called the Rose Moon or the Hot Moon, but none of these nicknames refer to its color – they’re all just names for the full moon in the month of June. However, the moon tends to sit lower in the sky in June, according to NASA, which could give it a pinkish hue as it shines through the thickest parts of the atmosphere.

Thursday’s celestial display is also a supermoon – depending on who you ask. The status is up for debate because there’s no official definition of a supermoon.

Generally, supermoons occur when the moon is at perigee – the closest point to Earth in its orbit. They can cause stronger ocean tides and affect the weather. But the International Astronomical Union has not established a rule about how close to Earth the full moon must be in order to qualify. So astronomers and enthusiasts disagree on which full moons get the designation.

“The term ‘supermoon’ is much more recent and has come to be any full or new moon within 90% of its closest approach to Earth,” Christine Shupla, an education manager at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, told CNN. “By that definition, the full moon on June 24 is also a supermoon, even though it is not as close as the full moon was in May or April.”

If you do consider Thursday’s full moon to be a supermoon, it’s the last one you’ll see this year. There are two more supermoons – on November 4 and December 4 – but they’ll be invisible new moons.

The full moon goes by many names

picking strawberries vermont
A family picks strawberries at the Legare Farm Stand in Calais, Vermont, Thursday, June 21, 2007.

Across North America and Europe, people have used full moons to track months and seasons for thousands of years, naming each one based on the seasonal changes it indicates. Different languages and cultures characterized these moons differently, sometimes based on agricultural cycles, sometimes in reference to natural phenomena.

In this case, several Indigenous groups of North America call the June full moon “Strawberry Moon” – including the Anishnaabe peoples of the Great Lakes and the Sioux of the Great Plains, according to the Western Washington University Planetarium. For the Algonquin peoples – who share a family of languages and originate from the area that today ranges from New England as far west as Lake Superior – the name refers to the short season for harvesting strawberries in the Northeast.

In Europe, people called it the Mead Moon or the Honey Moon, according to NASA.

Here are some of the many names assigned to full moons throughout the year:

  • January: Wolf Moon, Old Moon, Ice Moon
  • February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon
  • March: Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon
  • April: Pink Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon
  • May: Flower Moon, Planting Moon
  • June: Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon, Hot Moon
  • July: Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, Hay Moon
  • August: Sturgeon Moon, Red Moon
  • September: Harvest Moon, Corn Moon, Barley Moon
  • October: Hunter’s Moon, Blood Moon, Dying Grass Moon, Travel Moon
  • November: Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon
  • December: Cold Moon, Long Night’s Moon
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Dramatic photos from around the world show the ‘super blood moon’ large and red in the sky

blood moon auckland
A total lunar eclipse seen in Auckland, New Zealand on May 26.

A “super blood moon” appeared in the sky early on Wednesday, but only certain parts of the world caught a glimpse.

Thanks to a total lunar eclipse, the moon took on a reddish hue around 7:14 a.m. ET in parts of North America, South America, Asia, and Oceania.

The event coincided with a supermoon – a full moon that happens when the moon is at the closest point in its orbit to Earth. Hence the nickname “super blood moon.” Wednesday’s moon is also referred to as the “Flower Moon” because it appeared in May.

Here’s what the lunar eclipse looked like around the world.

Australia and New Zealand, had some of the world’s best views of the total lunar eclipse, which was visible for about 15 minutes (from 9:11 to 9:26 p.m. in Australia, or 7:11 to 7:26 a.m. ET).

blood moon australia
People watch the “Super Blood Moon” rise over the Pacific Ocean at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia on May 26.

Countries in the Asian Pacific Rim, including China and Indonesia, saw the eclipse just after moonrise.

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The moon above Hong Kong on May 26.

Alaska and Hawaii had the best vantage points in the US, but most western states also had a decent view. Some people east of the Mississippi saw a partial lunar eclipse.

blood moon california
The moon as seen over Santa Monica, California, on May 26.

Supermoons, which happen a few times a year at most, are the biggest and brightest full moons of the year: about 7% bigger and 15% brighter, on average, than a typical full moon.

blood moon surfer
A surfer is seen as the “Super Blood Moon” rises over the Pacific Ocean at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia on May 26.

The moon reached its perigee – the closest point in its orbit to Earth – on Tuesday at 9:21 p.m. ET. At that point, it was around 222,000 miles from Earth. Usually, it’s 240,000 miles away, on average.

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The total lunar eclipse as seen in Sumedang, Indonesia on May 26.

Wednesday’s full moon was the second supermoon of 2021 – the first was in April – and also this year’s last.

brazil blood moon
A lunar eclipse is observed during dawn in Brasilia, Brazil on May 26.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the Earth, and the moon enters Earth’s shadow. The only light the moon gets is filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, which tends to scatter blue light. Hence the red hue.

blood moon stages
The full moon as it transitions from penumbral lunar eclipse phase (top row left to right) to maximum lunar eclipse phase (bottom row) in Sydney, Australia on May 26.

This was 2021’s only total lunar eclipse. The last one took place on January 21, 2019. The next will be on May 16, 2022.

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The full moon seen behind Stonehenge in England on May 26.

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