09/12/2011 12:15 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2011

Harvest Moon Reaches Its Peak Weeks Before Autumnal Equinox

A special sight was in store for stargazers and early risers in the Northern Hemisphere this weekend.

This year's Harvest Moon reached its peak early Monday, Sept. 12 at about 5:27 a.m. EDT, reports.

The "Harvest Moon" is another name for the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, which marks the change of seasons.

The moon gets its name from the amount of light it emits, allowing farmers to continue harvesting the summer's crops through the evening, according to This year's fall equinox is set to occur on Sept. 23.

The Harvest Moon usually appears before or after the equinox.

Last year, the Harvest Moon occurred on the fall equinox, a rare occurrence that won't happen again until 2029, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Disappointed skywatchers need not fret if they slept through Monday morning's full moon display; they will have another chance to witness the annual occurrence. reports the Harvest Moon will be visible until Sept. 13, and perhaps a little longer for northern areas, such as Canada and Alaska.

The special full moon is also thought to bring "a spectacular northern lights display" for residents farther north, according to The Toronto Sun.

While the Harvest Moon appears orange in color, the effect can be attributed to the way light scatters on the moon as gazers look into the horizon. explains:

It stems from the fact that – when you look toward the horizon – you are looking through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere than when you gaze up and overhead. The atmosphere scatters blue light – that’s why the sky looks blue. The greater thickness of atmosphere in the direction of a horizon scatters blue light most effectively, but it lets red light pass through to your eyes. So a moon near the horizon takes on a yellow or orange or reddish hue.

To learn more about the autumnal equinox, watch the clip below from National Geographic.


For pictures of past Harvest Moons, click through the slideshow below.