The Buzz

It's leap year, so you get an extra day to savor this month

The setting sun can be seen through the bare trees in a forest.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Viola)

February may be our shortest month, but we will have 1,440 more minutes (or 86,400 more seconds) to savor this year because it's a leap year.

In our quadrennial leap years, February has 29 days instead of the usual 28. Why do we get an extra day to relish every four years? Get ready for a math lesson, because here's the short answer to the question: The length of a year — usually 365 days — is based on how long it takes Earth to make one full trip around the sun. But it doesn't take exactly 365 days for Earth to complete one full revolution around the sun. It takes a little longer, about 365.2422 days, according to NASA. That extra little bit amounts to about six hours, so every four years we add a 366th day because over the course of four years that extra time adds up to 24 hours, or a full day. 

In addition to an extra day, we will also have a lot more daylight to savor in February, gaining about 70 additional minutes of daylight over the course of the month. On Feb. 1, the sun rose at 7:03 a.m. and set at 5:09 p.m., giving us about 10 hours and 5 minutes of daylight. By Feb. 29, we will experience almost 11 hours and 15 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising at 6:27 a.m. and setting at 5:42 p.m.

Once the sun does set, the dark skies will be quiet. Meteor activity will be limited because there are no active meteor showers. Shooting star activity doesn't ramp up again until April, when the Lyrids and eta Aquariids meteor showers both begin on April 15, according to the American Meteor Society.

Even though February is the only month in which it is possible not to have a full moon, that won't be the case this year. February's full moon will be toward the end of the month, reaching its fullest point at 6:30 a.m. Feb. 24. It will appear full in the sky on that night as well as on the night of Feb. 23. This month's full moon is a micromoon, which is the opposite of a supermoon. Micromoons are full moons that occur when the moon is at its farthest point from Earth.

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Although the size and brightness of the moon's appearance in the sky are affected by its distance from Earth, this difference is not typically noticeable to the naked eye, the almanac reports. Instead, the moon looks bigger or smaller to us because of what's called the moon illusion, which is based on the moon's position in relation to the horizon. The moon appears larger when it is closer to the horizon and smaller when it is higher up in thy sky, farther from the horizon.

The February full moon is known as the snow moon, not surprisingly because February is traditionally a snowy month, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac. Other names for the February full moon used by Native groups include the eagle moon or bald eagle moon, the black bear moon, the raccoon moon, the groundhog moon and the goose moon.

Every 19 years, February does not have a full moon. This happens because the average time between two full moons is 29 1/2 days, and February usually only has 28 days, according to EarthSky. In the years when February does not have a full moon, both January and March have two full moons. This calendrical oddity last occurred in 2018 and will next happen in 2037.

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