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Harvest moon to shine tonight

WILLMAR -- If nature chooses to cooperate, a harvest moon will grace clear skies this evening with a golden crimson glow that's low, large and heavily linked to legend and lore.

In Norse mythology, the harvest is said to be the most powerful of the moons, granting blessings for a strong harvest and plenty by the shape-shifting prankster god Loki.

A slightly more literal interpretation of the harvest moon's significance involves the days before tractor lights, when each fall's first full moon helped late-laboring farmers bring in their crops by literally shedding light on the matters at hand. As the sun's light faded in the west, the full Harvest Moon would rise in the east to illuminate the fields for several more hours of work.

Previous to the advent of our modern calendar, unique titles were selected for each of the twelve months' full moons to aid in the tracking of time.

Thus, legend would have it that Earth has eleven more moons soaring through her skies than the actual lone Luna --moons named for the wolf, snow, the worm, the color pink, the flower, the strawberry, the buck, the sturgeon, this month's harvest, the hunter, the beaver and December's appropriately named cold moon.

According to Wes Boberg, earth sciences instructor at Ridgewater College, however, a Harvest Moon is simply the first full moon nearest the autumnal equinox, despite the fanciful legends and lore.

"It's a full moon and it's real, but there's nothing terribly special or spectacular about it," he said.

The only unusual thing right now "is that Jupiter will be up there, too," Boberg continued, "and that makes for an interesting pair hanging out up there."

Although lunar-planetary partnerships are not terribly uncommon, Boberg said it is the specific planet's presence that makes this an occasion to note.

"This is the first time I've seen the moon and Jupiter share the sky in my time here," he said.

Named for the patron deity of the Roman state, the fifth farthest planet from the sun is also the most massive at a striking two and a half times larger than the rest of the planets in our solar system combined.