Today’s full moon a ‘Blue Moon’ / What Is a Blue Moon?

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Every month, a full moon is visible in the skies. But this year, in this month, the moon will appear in full phase for a second time today. Referred to as Blue Moon, the next time it will appear in the skies will be on July 31, 2015.

Considering the rarity of a full moon appearing twice in the same month, the phrase, ‘once in a blue moon’ arises from this celestial occurrence.

To catch sight of the blue moon, one can look in the East direction. The moon will rise at 6:13 pm and reach its full illumination at around 7:28 pm.

Please note that the term Blue moon does not refer to the colour of the moon; the celestial object will remain in its milky white colour. The phrase Blue moon is just a metaphoric indication of the rarity of the phenomenon.

The first full moon had phased in on August 2 this year. The last time a Blue Moon occurred was on December 31, 2009 (The first full moon had also occurred on the 2nd of that month). The next time it will occur is on July 31, 2015.

Today’s full moon a ‘Blue Moon’

This Friday, August 31, might not be all that much fun for you, especially if you’re someone who vows to only do obligatory tasks once in a blue moon. Then again, if you’re a believer that good luck comes your way only once in a blue moon, Friday might be just the day you’ve been waiting for.

The fact is, TIME reports, for the first time since March 2010, we’ll gaze upon a blue moon today (Friday), illustrating just how long that fabled stretch of time really is: almost 30 months. After Friday, you’ll have to wait another 36 months — until July 2015 — for the next one. So, it’s time to loosen up Friday and do all those things you say you do “once in a blue moon.”

It’s a rare cosmic rising that will be unveiled, coincidentally, on the same day as astronaut Neil Armstrong’s funeral service. Armstrong, who died last Saturday at the age of 82, brought the fabled moon into mankind’s domain when he became the first man to walk on its surface in 1969.

Despite the colorful turn of phrase, you might be disappointed if you look into the sky. There will be no magical chameleon act performed by the moon. That’s because the phrase blue moon — dating back centuries with no pinpointed origin — is nothing to do with hue, but instead signifies a full moon happening for a second time in the same month. Full moons occur every 29 days. With a full moon having already appeared this month on August 2, Friday’s full moon will turn blue, well, in name only. daily times monitor.

What Is a Blue Moon?

A blue moon is full moon that occurs as the second full moon in a given month. Blue moons are not typically blue in color — that happens only, well, once in a blue moon, but there is the possibility for a hint of blue in any full moon (more on this below). The definition of blue moon as the term is used today began when a writer made a mistake.

The phrase "blue moon" is "a creature of folklore," explains Philip Hiscock, a folklorist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. "It’s the second full moon in a calendar month."
Hiscock helped figure out where the term came from. Long ago, "blue moon" was used to describe absurd things. In 1946, James Hugh Pruett (1886-1955), an amateur astronomer, was writing in Sky & Telescope magazine. Pruett "made an incorrect assumption about how the term had been used in the Maine Farmers’ Almanac — which consistently used "blue moon" to mean to the third full moon in a season that contained four of them (rather than the usual three)," Sky & Telescope editors later explained. The error had been repeated in a syndicated radio program in 1980.

Hiscock and Texas astronomer Donald W. Olson helped the magazine sort all this out and admit the mistake back in 1999. The error led to the widely accepted definition of blue moon today: the second full moon in a given month. A blue moon occurs roughly once every 2.7 years.
The next blue moon, according to this folklore, will be Aug. 31, 2012. (There are two full moons in August, the first one being Aug. 1.) If you miss this one, you’ll have to wait three years for the next blue moon. There will be two full moons in a single month in July 2015 (July 1 and 31).

But can the moon really be blue? Yes, scientists say.
If there’s been a recent forest fire or volcanic eruption that pumped significant smoke or ash into the upper atmosphere, it is possible for the moon to take on a bluish hue. Just such an event made the moon turn blue in late September, 1950, when smoke from a forest fire in Canada drifted down to cause a blue moon over eastern North America. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 created blue moons from various perspectives around the planet.
The phrase “once in a blue moon” — meaning something very rare — dates back to 1824.
Now that you know the truth, you might test your lunar knowledge with any moon facts quiz.

Astro Bob: Blue moon a case of misinformation

Tonight is the blue moon — which isn’t blue, of course, unless you happen to be near a volcano.

It was actually a mistake by an amateur astronomer in Sky & Telescope magazine in 1946 that led to our current definition of “blue moon” as the unusual second full moon in a month.

The term “blue moon” goes back hundreds of years, but it had a different meaning then of “impossible” or “absurd.” The term later morphed into a reference for something uncommon or that rarely occurred.

There are normally three full moons in each of the four seasons, for a total of 12 per year. In the early 1930s, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac (unrelated to the Old Farmer’s) named the third full moon in a season that had an extra fourth full moon a blue moon. It’s unclear where the “blue” part came from, but it’s possible it refers to that earlier meaning — an event that rarely happens.

Then, in the March 1946 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, American amateur astronomer James Hugh Pruett wrote an article titled “Once in a Blue Moon.” He either misread the Maine almanac’s definition or interpreted the meaning of “blue moon” differently, calling it the second full moon in a month. Sky and Telescope later adopted Pruett’s definition.

The blue moon snowballed into popular culture when Deborah Byrd, host of National Public Radio’s Star Date program, used Pruett’s definition during a broadcast on Jan. 31, 1980. Word got around and now you know the rest of the story.

Fascinating, isn’t it, that the current blue moon definition is based on one person’s (mis)interpretation of an earlier definition? Makes you wonder what other accepted “facts” are based on odd turns of events and errors in interpretation.

I personally like the modern definition. It still catches the gist of the old almanac sense in a way that’s easy to remember. The next blue moon for North America will be in July 2015. Even better, there will be two blue moons in 2018 — one in January and one in March, with no full moon at all in February. The last time that happened was in 1999.

Now, if you’re near a volcano …

Volcanic ash and forest fires can turn the moon blue. The secret? It’s the ash. If all the ash particles are about 1 micron in size (the period at the end of this sentence is 600 microns across), they efficiently scatter away all the warm colors in moonlight, leaving a pale blue orb.

I’ve never seen the phenomenon, but much of the planet saw blue moons for months after the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa in 1883. Ditto for Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991. If you live in western U.S. where forest fires have been rife this summer, perhaps you’ve seen one too many blue moons.

Most of us will never get to see a real blue moon, but the calendar version will shine in Pisces tonight. We normally get one full moon a month, but every 2½ years there’s room for another to squeeze in.

That’s because the time between full moons is 29.5 days, while most months are 30 or 31 days. Because the first full moon of August was on the 1st, there’s enough time left in the month to make room for a second one on the 31st. If the moon were always full at the beginning of each 30 or 31-day month, we’d get 11 blue moons a year. Now, wouldn’t that be nice. That doesn’t happen because the moon’s not in sync with the calendar — it marches to its own 29.5-day rhythm.

Full moons have acquired a variety of names handed down from past generations. We get our moon names from the various American Indian tribes as well as the early colonists. Two common monikers for the August full moon are the sturgeon and red moons. The first refers to August being a great time to catch sturgeon and the second to the color of the moon when it rises during the hazy summer months. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the first full moon of August was the sturgeon and the second, the red moon. It’s a fun coincidence that this month’s red moon is also blue.

I’m looking forward to a fine moonlit walk tonight, and I wish you the same.


Bob King is photo editor at the News Tribune.

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