Wolf Moon 2023: How to see the January full Moon

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A full Moon provides us with a great opportunity to observe some of the craters around the rim of the Moon, which would otherwise be hidden in shadow. As the first full Moon of the new year rises, the distinctive constellation, Orion, continues to dominate the night sky, with the hunter’s recognisable club and pelt easy to spot under clear conditions.

The Orion Nebula, situated in the sword, is visible as a smudge to the naked eye, while Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is clearly visible and forms part of Orion’s hunting dog, Canis Major.

Find out everything you need to know about the first full Moon of 2023 below.

If we’re afforded clear nights this year, why not plan ahead with our full Moon UK calendar and astronomy for beginners guide?

When can I see the January full Moon 2023?

The full Wolf Moon is the first full Moon of the new year, and the first full Moon after the winter solstice. It will be visible Friday 6 January 2023 and can be seen in the late afternoon, rising high overhead in the evening in the UK and the northern hemisphere.

The Moon will rise in the northeast at 3:11pm on Friday 6 January 2023 and will set at 9:03am the next morning in the northwest, on 7 November 2022 as seen from London (times vary with location).

If weather spoils the occasion, or you are unable to see the full Wolf Moon at its peak, it will also appear full the night before, and the night after.

What else can I see that night?

As the sun sets at 4:06pm on 6 January, Jupiter will already be visible in the southern sky. Moving further towards the east, Mars will still be very bright, after reaching its closest approach with Earth on 1 December and opposition on 8 December 2022. The Red Planet is now moving away from us, and for those of us with a telescope, we’ll see a marked decrease in apparent size as January progresses.

By around 7pm on the 6th, the full Moon will be visible in the east, more-or-less lining up with Mars, Uranus and Jupiter. Orion will also be visible low on the horizon.

When is the best time to see the Wolf Moon?

The Wolf Moon will reach peak illumination at 11:07pm GMT on Friday 6 January. For us here in the UK, this means that peak illumination will occur when the Moon is high in the sky.

When the Moon is at peak illumination, it will be at a distance of around 400128.63km away from Earth.

The best time to see the Wolf Moon will be on the evening of 6 January 2023. Sunset occurs at 4:06pm (times vary with location), and as the Moon has already risen by this time, we should be offered a good view of a full Wolf Moon from the early evening and throughout the night as it rises higher into the sky.

Which constellation is the full Moon in?

The Moon will be in the Zodiac constellation Gemini, flanked on either side by Cancer the Crab and Auriga the Charioteer.

Gemini can be found by imagining a line between Rigel, the blue supergiant star that makes up Orion’s right foot, and Betelgeuse, the red supergiant of Orion’s shoulder, then extending that line until you reach the bright stars Castor and Pollux. These are the two ‘heads’ of the Gemini twins.

The full Wolf Moon peaks at 11:07pm on 6 January 2023 © NASA/ESA/ESO/Space Telescope Science Institute/IAU Minor Planet Center/Fabien Chereau/ Noctua Software

Why is it called the Wolf Moon?

Full Moon names are often inspired by the seasons, weather, or animals that are active at the time, and these vary around the world. Native tribes have different names; some stem from medieval English, and there are other names that originate from Celtic, Chinese or Hindu culture.

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The Wolf Moon is so-called thanks to hungry wolves making themselves known, baying loudly near human settlements in January. Medieval Europeans and a number of native American tribes have all settled on the name Wolf Moon for the January full Moon, although it’s unclear where the name first originated.

The wolf pack: sharp teeth and strong family units © Getty Images

What can I see on the Moon?

There are a few craters you can see with the naked eye on the Moon’s surface. For those of us here in the northern hemisphere, look slightly to the left of the Moon’s centre, and you should be able to see a bright crater named Copernicus. To the left of Copernicus, you’ll see the Aristarchus crater, and down near the bottom, in the southern uplands, is the Tycho crater. This is one of the most distinctive craters on the moon, as it’s surrounded by distinctive bright rays, almost like a big splatter mark.

A photograph of the full Moon

At the next full Moon, look out for the Tycho crater in the southern uplands. It looks like a big, bright splash mark © Getty images

“Without a telescope, you might be able to pick out the darker regions called ‘mares’ or ‘seas’. They aren’t, of course, actual oceans – they are expanses of an ancient lava flow that have left these dark stains across the Moon,” explains Prof Michael Merrifield, an astronomer at the University of Nottingham.

“With a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, you ought to be able to start picking out plenty of individual craters. Away from the full Moon, looking close to the terminator – where night turns to day on the Moon – should help, as that is where the shadows are longest, helping to pick out these features,” he says.

What causes a full Moon?

A full Moon occurs when the Moon is fully illuminated by the Sun, which happens when the Earth is positioned directly between the Sun and the Moon. We usually have 12 full Moons in one calendar year, although some years we can have 13.

Technically, the Moon is only ‘full’ for an instant (called syzygy), but it will appear full for the whole night. To our human eyes, it will also appear full during both nights on either side of being full.

During a full Moon, the Moon is located precisely 180° opposite the Sun in ecliptic longitude.

The full Moon is one part of the lunar cycle, which takes 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds (generally rounded to 29.53 days) to complete. That means we get a full Moon every 29.53 days, calculated by the time it takes the Moon to orbit the Earth once, as measured from new Moon to new Moon. (This is also known as one synodic month.)

However, because one lunar cycle takes less than one calendar month in our Gregorian calendar, we sometimes have 13 full Moons in a year. This occurs around every two to three years. This means that we will see two full Moons in a single month, and this extra full Moon is known as a ‘Blue Moon’. In some cultures, a Blue Moon was considered to be some kind of doppelgänger, a trickster Moon, or otherwise somehow fake. The next Blue Moon will occur on 30 August 2023.

Similarly, we sometimes get two new Moons in a month. This extra new Moon is known as a Black Moon. The last Black Moon was 30 April 2022, and the next one will be next year, 19 May 2023.

About our expert, Prof Michael Merrifield

Michael is a professor of astronomy at the University of Nottingham. He studies the formation and structure of galaxies, cosmology, and X-ray and gamma astronomy.

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