Mark your calendar for Aug. 11, 2022. That's the day August's full moon, known as the sturgeon moon, reaches its peak. More specifically, its top illumination comes at 1:36 a.m. GMT (9:36 p.m. ET). If you're busy then, no worries. You can enjoy a nearly full moon the nights before and after (Aug. 10 and Aug. 12).
This year, August's sturgeon moon is also a supermoon. A supermoon — which is not an official astronomical term — is a full moon that occurs when the moon is closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit. Because it's closer to Earth than normal, a supermoon appears larger and brighter than regular full moons, hence its name. Every year there are three to four supermoons and they always occur consecutively. The sturgeon moon is the last of four supermoons in 2022.
The terms "full moon" and "supermoon" are easy to understand, but what the heck is a sturgeon moon? Ancient peoples gave names to each full moon, typically selecting a moniker that matched something that regularly occurred that month or season. Some say the nickname "sturgeon moon" is derived from the fact that Native Americans found it easiest to catch the sturgeon swimming around the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain during August. Others believe it comes from Algonquin tribes in the northeastern U.S. and Canada, who noticed more sturgeon in the lakes at this time of the year.
The freshwater lake sturgeon was an essential food source for Native American tribes living in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions. The oldest native fish species in the Great Lakes, the sturgeon first appeared in fossil records more than 200 million years ago. Sturgeon are also the largest native Great Lakes fish, stretching up to 9 feet long (2.7 meters) and tipping the scales at up to 275 pounds (125 kilograms).
While many people refer to August's full moon as the sturgeon moon, that is just one of its many nicknames. The Anishinaabe people, for example, called it the ricing moon, as August was the time to harvest their wild rice crops. Some Northern Europeans referred to this full moon as the lightning moon, since there are frequent storms featuring thunder and lightning during late summer in their corner of the world. Another European term is corn moon, signifying the crop they were preparing to harvest.
After the Aug. 11 sturgeon moon, the next full moon will be the harvest moon, coming Sept. 10, 2022.