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A rare 'strawberry moon' will be visible from Texas on Friday

The moon cast in an orange hue against a black sky.
June's strawberry moon should have an orangish hue to it.

Strawberry moon — ring any bells? It’s not a character from a Saturday morning TV show.

On Friday night, if the sky is dark enough, you may be able to look up in the sky and see a rare strawberry moon visible from where you are this year. For the first time since 1985, the celestial event will coincide with the summer solstice.

Amy Ray, a resident astronomer at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory out in West Texas, spoke to Texas Standard about the moon. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: So tell us a little bit about this strawberry moon and where it got its name and all that kind of good stuff.

Amy Ray: So the name “strawberry moon” comes from the season it aligns with. So right now it’s the strawberry harvest season.

Many people think that the name comes from the color. It’s actually not going to appear red in the sky.

So we’re not going to see a red-speckled moon or anything like that. So what will we see? And what time do we go out to see it?

So this year is going to be really interesting because the moon is going to be very, very low in the sky. So it will have a slight color to it. So it’ll appear a golden color or maybe an orangish color.

This is because it is so low, light from the moon has to pass through more of the Earth’s atmosphere. So a lot of that blue light that we usually see from the moon is going to be scattered out.

Interesting. And that gives it that sort of orangish hue to it. So this year’s strawberry moon coincides with the summer solstice. What’s the significance of that?  

So it doesn’t happen very often. This year, it’s really special because the moon’s orbital inclination is not in the same plane as the Earth as it orbits the sun. It has a slight tilt of about 5 degrees, above and below.

So this year, that tilt has processed around or moved around to where the lowest point is going to be close to the summer solstice. And so when that full moon is occurring, it’s going to have a very, very low arc across the sky.

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Now, with the moon being as close to the horizon as you’re describing, does that do anything in terms of how we perceive the size of the moon?

Yes. So there is an effect called the moon illusion effect. It’s not fully known what causes this, but when the moon is close to the horizon, it appears much, much larger than it actually is.

So if you were to hold your thumb out at arm’s length and cover the moon, you would cover about half of it with your thumb. And you can do this for another full moon. If you do that, it will appear to cover the same size as if you were to do it with a moon that’s really close to the horizon, even though that moon looks so much bigger.

Yeah, I’ve seen this before, but I wasn’t sure exactly why it was that the moon sometimes seemed as big as it did in the sky. But it has to do with its proximity or its arc being low to the horizon from where we are?

Yes, it’s the forced perspective from things on the horizon.

Interesting. So where’s the best place? I would imagine the McDonald Observatory is the best place in Texas to observe this. But if you don’t happen to be out around Fort Davis when this happens on Friday, what are some tips on being able to spot it and see it and maybe get a good snap or two?

So the best place to see it — if you’re not in a city or any place like that — if you can get to a point where, since this is going to be so close to the horizon, anywhere that you’re not close to like very tall buildings or surrounded by trees, that would be the best place to see it.

And as far as times go, it’s going to start rising close to 9 p.m. in Texas.

So you look out over the eastern horizon?

Yes. It’ll start in the east and it’ll reach its highest point around 1 a.m., but I don’t think many people would want to stay up that late to see it.

Well, what is the big appeal here? Because it’s not so much that it’s going to look like a particularly unusual moon. I mean, I’ve seen orangish-colored moons before, right?  

Yeah. So we do get them occasionally.

As moons rise, we’ll see that light being scattered through the atmosphere, and then it’ll transition to a normal-colored moon. But this year, since it’s going to stay so low, it’ll retain that reddish color throughout the night.

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