Whether you find the hype surrounding the alleged ‘extreme supermoon’ on March 19th superfluous or completely warranted, this celestial event brings with it some spectacular lunar activity and equally fun vocabulary.
While the names of many moon phases are rich in folklore, the supermoon became ”super” because of Richard Nolle – an astrologer with a flair for the dramatic. Nolle believes the upcoming full moon “lunar perigee” – the point in which the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth – will bring an array of disastrous events when it is a mere 221,567 miles away. These predictions have the odious distinction of coinciding with various catastrophes in Japan. Thankfully, the apocalyptic chatter has waned in the wake of real tragedy, allowing for a discussion of lunar language and and appreciation of the actual event.
The prefix “super” is a Latin loanword meaning “above, beyond” and “moon” is derived from the Old English mona, from the same root as month. “Lunar” comes from the Latin lunaris, meaning “of the moon,” and “perigee” is derived from the Modern Latin perigeum meaning “about, near.” ”Lunatic” is also of Latin descent and, according to legend, refers to someone who goes mad with the changes of the moon.
The Algonquin tribes kept track of the seasons by naming each recurring full moon. Long before it was dubbed the “extreme supermoon,” the orb of night during the month of March was called by the less melodramatic but equally colorful “full worm moon.” The name refers to the change in temperature and the oncoming spring thaw; earthworm casts appear, promising the return of the robin. Tribes north of the Algonquin knew this phase as the “Full Crow Moon,” which refers to the cawing of crows – signaling the end of winter.
This won’t be a “blue moon,” or a “harvest moon.” Learn what those terms refer to, here.
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