Blue Moon

Tonight's "Blue Moon" is More Likely to be Red...

Tonight’s “Blue Moon” is More Likely to be Red…

Tonight’s full moon is a Blue Moon — it’s also the Full Sturgeon Moon, the Full Red Moon, the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.

This full moon qualifies as a Blue Moon because it’s the third full moon in a season with four (most seasons have only three). The moon’s extra names come from traditional monikers for the full moon of a given month. A few hundred years ago, Native American tribes in what’s now the northeastern United States kept track of seasons by ascribing particular names to each full moon. Later, European settlers added their own names for the full moons to the lexicon.

The annual August full moon has come to be known as the Full Sturgeon Moon, because the large fish called sturgeon can most easily be caught at this time of year. The name came from tribes who caught this fish in bodies of water such as the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.

Another name for this month’s full moon is the Full Red Moon, because the weather and atmospheric conditions during this season can often make the moon look reddish when it rises through a haze.

And finally, because crops grow tall at this time of year, this month’s moon is sometimes called the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.

Blue Moons don’t happen too often, which is why the phrase “once in a Blue Moon,” has sprung up to mean only very rarely. After tonight’s event, the next Blue Moon isn’t set to occur until 2015.

Once In A Blue Moon

I love full moons!

For some reason they are very difficult to photograph. In this picture, the moon looks tiny, but to my naked eye it was huge!

August 2012 is a month with two full moons –  the first full moon is August 1 and the second full moon is August 31.

By one definition, the second moon in a month is called a Blue Moon.

However, there are two more definitions for Blue Moon. It can be the third of four full moons in a single season. Or it can be an actual blue-colored moon.

It’s very rare that you would see a blue-colored moon, although unusual sky conditions – certain-sized particles of dust or smoke – can create them. Blue-colored moons aren’t predictable. So don’t be misled by the photo above. The sorts of moons people commonly call Blue Moons aren’t usually blue.

Every month has a full moon, and, most of the time, the names for full moons coincide with particular months or seasons of the year. By either definition, the name Blue Moon accounts for times when there happen to be more full moons than is usual.

Blue moon as second full moon in a month. In recent decades, many people have begun using the name Blue Moon to describe the second full moon of a calendar month.

The time between one full moon and the next is close to the length of a calendar month. So the only time one month can have two full moons is when the first full moon happens in the first few days of the month. This happens every 2-3 years, so these sorts of Blue Moons come about that often.

When is the next Blue Moon, according to this first definition? August 31, 2012.

The idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was using a 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he simplified the definition. He wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

Can there be two blue moons in a single calendar year? Yes. It last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had Blue Moons.

The next year of double blue moons is coming up in 2018.

Blue moon as third full moon of four in a season. The Old Farmer’s Almanac defined a Blue Moon as an extra full moon that occurred in a season. One season – winter, spring, fall, summer – typically has three full moons. If a season has four full moons, then the third full moon may be called a Blue Moon.

The next blue moon by this definition will fall on August 21, 2013.

In recent years, a controversy has raged – mainly among purists – about which Blue Moon definition is better. The idea of a Blue Moon as the third of four in a season may be older than the idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month. Is it better? Is one definition right and the other wrong? After all, this is folklore. So the folk get to decide, and, in the 21st century, both sorts of full moons have been called Blue.

So enjoy the Blue Moon on August 31st!