Look for the Super ‘Snow Moon’ to Light Up the Winter Sky This Weekend–Here’s What It Means

BY Robert Jay Watson TIMEFebruary 8, 2020 PRINT

As the month of February sets in, bringing with it winter temperatures and, in some places, plenty of snow, a super moon will arrive on the evening of Feb. 8, 2020, and will reach its brightest point at 2:33 a.m. on Feb. 9, according to NASA. A “super moon” is a full moon that appears larger because it is nearly at its closest point to the Earth.

This particular super moon has been called the “Snow Moon” or the “Storm Moon” by native Americans, per the Farmer’s Almanac, because it coincides with the heaviest snowfalls of the year in most of North America.

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Illustration – Shutterstock | Kotenko Oleksandr

Despite it being the harbinger of freezing temperatures and big snowdrifts for people in the north, the Snow Moon has special significance in many cultures around the world. In some religious traditions, the Super Snow Moon signals a new beginning.

In Judaism, the Snow Moon is the signal for the holiday Tu B’Shvat (The New Year for Trees), which begins at sundown on Feb. 9 and ends on sundown of Feb. 10. All across Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, tree-planting activities will take place. With the exception of evergreens, winter is the best time to plant trees as they can focus on spreading their roots underground without having to direct energy to leaf growth.

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The Super Snow Moon rises next to the Parthenon Temple at the Acropolis archaeological site on Feb. 19, 2019. (©Getty Images | LOUISA GOULIAMAKI)

For people in China and for Chinese around the world, the first full moon of the lunar new year is the time of the Lantern Festival. People and cities will make lanterns of various sizes and designs, with one of the biggest demonstrations taking place in Pingxi District in Taiwan. In addition to the ornate lanterns, which historically had riddles written on the the sides for children to solve, there will also be enormous fireworks displays.

The Snow Moon also kicks off the Magha Puja holiday in countries in southeast Asia, the third-most important Buddhist Festival of the year. Observed on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, it celebrates a sermon delivered by Sakyamuni to his first large group of disciples. This is a time for Buddhists to give alms to the poor, give offerings at temples, and recite sacred texts.

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A statue atop Milan’s Duomo Cathedral is pictured as the Super Snow Moon rises on Feb. 19, 2019. (©Getty Images | ANDREAS SOLARO)

As for astronomers, besides potentially providing an up-close-and-personal view of the moon’s surface, the event will correspond with some other interesting things to see in the sky. Two of Earth’s neighbors in the solar system will be particularly visible this weekend: planets Mercury and Venus. While Venus will be very bright, Mercury is much harder to spot because of its proximity to the sun.

However you celebrate it, the beauty of the Snow Moon should light up the night sky all over the country, unless of course, a super snowstorm blows through.

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