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How the 'pink moon' got its nickname

NBC News logo NBC News 4/20/2019 David Freeman
a group of people flying kites in the sky: Image: KUWAIT-FULL-MOON © Yasser Al-Zayyat Image: KUWAIT-FULL-MOON

It ain't pink.

April's full moon is sometimes called a pink moon, but anyone who looks up at the sky expecting to see a moon that's actually rosy will be sorely disappointed.

For all the attention being lavished on the pink moon — questions like "What time will the moon be pink tonight?" are trending online and there's even a #pinkmoon hashtag on social media — Earth's natural satellite looks no different this month than in any other.

"Pink moon" is just a nickname from folklore — a reference to moss pink, or wild ground phlox, whose pinkish flowers are among spring's earliest flowers in the eastern United States. April's full moon is also called the sprouting grass moon, the egg moon and the fish moon.

Not everyone is enamored of the nicknames.

"I think these names are distracting from the real interest in the moon," Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, told NBC News MACH in an email, adding that he was unfamiliar with the pink moon moniker.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory in Rome, said that he too was unfamiliar with the term "pink moon" but applauded its use.

"I think it's great that people personalize it so," he said in an email. "I just wish more people actually looked up and paid attention to the moon, just to be aware of the universe around them and to get their noses out of their cellphones."

Whatever you call it, the moon turned full Friday at 7:12 a.m. ET and will continue to appear full through Saturday morning. The moonshine may make it hard to see the Lyrid meteor shower, which this year peaks on the night of April 22.

A full moon occurs when its surface facing Earth is fully illuminated by sunlight, creating a bright disk. That happens when the moon, Earth and the sun are aligned, with Earth positioned between the moon and the sun.

The next full moon will be May 18. That one's nicknamed the full flower moon.

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