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We get a Blue Moon when there is a second full moon in one calendar month. That happens on Wednesday, January 31. But our Moon will also pass through the Earth’s shadow to give us a total lunar eclipse. And the triple play comes with this also being the third in a series of three straight full moon supermoons.

There will be another Blue Moon in 2018, and supermoons occur every few months. Eclipses are rarer, but the three occurring all at once is rarer still. This will be the first Blue Moon total eclipse in 150 years for the Americas.

The Moon will be entirely inside the Earth’s dark umbral shadow (totality) for a bit more than an hour.

The term Blue Moon still makes me think of the song “Blue Moon.” It is an oldie, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. Lots of singers and groups have recorded it (Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé had early hits) and versions by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, The Mavericks, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Rod Stewart and even an adapted anthem version used by English Premier League football club Manchester City are out there.

But the recording that always pops into my head is the 1961 big hit for doo-wop group The Marcels.

The song pops up in one of my favorite horror-with-a-comedic-twist films, American Werewolf in London, which would be an excellent film to watch on Wednesday night.

If you are more of a listener than watcher, I suggest the film’s soundtrack which is full (no pun intended) of moon songs.

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shoot moon pexels

Today’s Full Moon (May 21, 2016) is the third of four full moons to occur between the March equinox and the June solstice and so it can be called a Blue Moon. To be precise, it occurs at 21:14 Universal Time, but it looked full last night and will look full to many people tomorrow night too.

No blue color to the moon, though we often see moon or night photos that have a blue cast to them because of the way cameras often interpret the color of sunlight and moonlight as respectively red/orange and blue.

Movies often use filters to change those colors. Francois Truffaut made a film I like titled Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) for the film-making process referred to in French as la nuit américaine (“American night”) of shooting outdoors in daylight with film stock balanced for tungsten (indoor) light and underexposed (or adjusted during post production) to make the final result appear as if it was filmed at night. In English the technique is called “day for night. ” As more sensitive low-light film became available and with the takeover of digital, shooting day for night is not as common. In the Truffaut film, it also implies that other things are not as they seem.

This is a Blue Full Moon by one older definition of the term as described above.A more recent definition is that a Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month. Today’s full moon doesn’t fit that definition. That definition of the Blue Moon won’t come around until  won’t happen until January 31, 2018 and will only occur 7 or 8 times in 19 calendar years.

Look up tonight and if you see the Full Moon clearly you will also see a brilliant “star” following it. That is Mars, shining much brighter than any star. Mars will also be move on May 22 into opposition and be the brightest Mars we have seen in 10 years.

This Full Moon has many names including Hare Moon, Merry or Dyad Moon, Fright Moon, Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month) or Milk Moon, Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Planting Moon, and Moon When the Ponies Shed.

Many cultures celebrated this month. The Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and said to be the mother of Hermes, gave the name to this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia, a family festival for the purification and protection of farm land. In the Celtic cultures, May was called Mai or Maj, a month of sexual freedom. Green was worn during this month to honor the Earth Mother. May 1 was the Celtic festival of Beltane, a festival celebrating fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility. In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

This can be the Buddha Full Moon when it occurs near the Buddha-Wesak Festival. The date of Buddha’s birthday varies but it is said that Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio and many followers consider this the highest spiritual day of the year.

 

duck moon
As I have written here before, since Full Moons occur every 29.5 days, it is possible to have two Full Moons in a month and that second one is popularly called a “Blue Moon.”

We had a Full Moon to launch this month on July 1 (in the U.S.) and now the month will close out with another Full Moon tonight (the 31st).

Why blue? One might think that it goes back to some early person recording a second Full Moon in a month and that particular Moon appeared blue. Particles of dust of a particular size or smoke from large fire or volcanic eruption can cause a moon to look blue in color, but it is certainly not something that is predictable by date and this next Full Moon will probably appear no more blue than the one earlier this month. Moonlight does have more of a blue color (more so for a camera than our eyes) than the reddish light of sunrise and sunset. You often see that in films as a way to indicate night or even film “day for night.”

Actually, the use of the Blue Moon name seems to be quite modern. The March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine ran an article that defined the term as a second one in a month.

It is an unusual but not very rare occurrence and we can have two Blue Moons in a single calendar year. That happened in 1999 with two Full Moons in January and March and no full moon in February. We will have the next year of double Blue Moons in 2018.

We get a Blue Moon in the month of July every 19 years. This is the Metonic cycle and so in 2034 we’ll again have two full moons in July 2034 and another Blue Moon on July 31, 2034. Mark your electronic calendar.

Why is this? There are 235 full moons yet only 228 calendar months in the 19-year Metonic cycle. Because the number of full moons outnumber the number of calendar months, it means at least 7 of these 228 months will have two full moons. The math is simple enough for even me to understand: 235 – 228 = 7 extra full moons.

To add some complexity to our desire to wrap up our attempts to control the universe and time by making clocks and calendars, take this situation: If a February within this 19-year period has no full moon at all – as is the case in February 2018 – that means this extra full moon must fall within the boundaries of another month, too. In 2018 we will have two Blue Moons.

Anyway, enjoy this July 31st “blue” Full Moon.

farm full moonFor farmers, this was often called the Hay Moon. For Druids and some southern American Indian tribes, this late July Full Moon was a time when the harvest is celebrated.

I used a Cree tribe name for this late July Full Moon – the Moon When Ducks Begin to Molt. The Cree are one of the largest groups of Native Canadians/Native Americans in North America. There are over 200,000 members in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta the Northwest Territories and Quebec. In the United States, this Algonquian-speaking people historically lived from Lake Superior westward, but today, they live mostly in Montana, where they share a reservation with the Ojibwe (Chippewa).

Like most birds, ducks shed, or molt,their feathers. They do this twice each year, with the first molt in early summer. New feathers grow in and push out the old ones. Ducks molt very quickly and in a few weeks, they lose all their feathers and grow a whole new plumage. During molting, they need to find a safe place to stay, because this is a dangerous time because they can’t fly. Molting ducks spend most of their time hiding in tall grass or floating out in deeper waters.

Ducks lose all their feathers during the first molt of the year and then have their summer feathers for a few months. Around September, they molt again, but only the body feathers fall out.

 

Tonight is a Blue Full Moon. The last blue moon occurred on Dec. 31, 2009 and that “New Year’s Eve Blue Moon” also coincided with a partial lunar eclipse (for viewers in Europe, Asia, Africa and some parts of Alaska). This is our last blue moon until 2015.

A Blue Moon – the second of two full moons in one month – aren’t all that rare and aren’t any different in color, but it’s nice that they get more people to look up at the night sky. The next blue moon won’t occur until July 31, 2015, so you should check this one out.

Actually, it’s not an event you have to stay up late to observe. The moon will be at its fullest at 9:58 a.m. EDT on Friday, so you can check it out early morning too.

The really unusual event is a year with two blue moons and the last time we had two months with two full moons was in 1999. The next time double blue moons will occur is in 2018.

Sing along with the moon (and The Marcels)


Full Moons occur every 29.5 days, so it has always been a way of breaking up the seasons and the year, and is the basis for our calendar months.  One full moon per month is the usual, but since every month but February has at least 30 days in it, there is the potential for two full moons in a month.

The term Blue Moon can refer to the second full moon in a given month. When people say “once in a blue moon” they are speaking to the rarity of the occurrence of a second moon happening in the same given month.

This month is one of these unusual months which will have two full moons. There was the full moon on August 2nd, and another full moon appears on Friday, August 31st.

The term Blue Moon is also sometimes used to describe the third of four full moons in a single season.

Are there any moons that actually appear blue in color? Unusual sky conditions can create them, but they are not date-predictable. Particles of dust of a particular size or smoke from large forest fires or volcanic eruptions can cause a moon to look blue in color.

The idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month appears to have come from a March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine. In an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett, he defined the term this way: “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 and it happened last in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. The next year of double blue moons will be in 2018.

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