Why pagans, stargazers and Neil Young fans are looking up tonight

It's a moon that's been celebrated in songs and pop culture since the vaudeville era — and you can check it out over New Brunswick this week, especially at its peak on Thursday.

Shine on, harvest moon

A spooky orange moon rises over McLarens Beach in west Saint John. The harvest moon this year will be at its peak Thursday. (Submitted by Paul Owen)

A big, orange-tinted moon has been hanging over New Brunswick.

The harvest moon gets the nickname from its extra-long glow, which once allowed farmers to gather crops by night.

It's the first full moon after the autumn equinox.  

The lunar phase has long loomed large in the popular imagination. It's even been immortalized in numerous songs dating back to the vaudeville era. 

During and after the harvest moon, according to Curt Nason of the Saint John Astronomy Club, the moon rises in the east shortly after sunset. As it rises during or near twilight, it seems as if there are several full moons — for a few nights in a row.

In addition to appearing bigger because of its proximity to the horizon, it can also take on a weird colour.

"Moonlight is reflected sunlight, which is white light," Nason said. "As the moon gets down lower in a thicker atmosphere, the blue part of the light gets absorbed and leaves the red, orange and yellow. Depending on how much dust is in the air, it might even turn red.

"It reminds you of pumpkins."

The harvest moon can appear red, orange or yellow depending on what's happening in the atmosphere, according to Curt Nason of the Saint John Astronomy Club. (Submitted by Paul Owen)

It adds a little supernatural autumn ambience to your evening wanderings, Nason said.

"[Some people] swear there are odd goings on in the full moon, but they've done research and found there's no difference in people's behaviour," Nason said.

"I get a lot of teachers and nurses who argue on that point."

Kinda spooky

The harvest moon also has a mythological significance, according to Natasha Thibodeau, a Rothesay-based tarot card reader.

The harvest moon marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the "darker half" of the year, she said.

Ancient Celtic people used it to mark the time before the festival of Samhain.

"It's a time of new beginnings and also looking back," Thibodeau said. "The harvest moon is a good time to send prayers to loved ones who have passed over, and to do divination and see what the next half of the year is going to bring to us."

"Just try to sit outside, clear your thoughts, and enjoy the moonlight," she said. "You'll feel energized and ready to see what the new year to come has to offer."

Whether you believe that or not, the harvest moon is at its peak Thursday night.

It's a good time to put on a little Neil Young and — as he sings in the song — "go out and feel the night."