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Once in a blue moon

Priya Kumar, in Oman, August 2012

The most literal meaning of blue moon is when the moon appears, to the casual observer, an unusually bluish colour, which is rare . This effect can be caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere. In 1950 and 1951 muskeg fires smouldered, for several years, in Alberta, Canada, before suddenly developing into very major – smokey – fires. When the smoke cleared, enough so that the sun was visible, the sky was lavender in a large part of eastern North America, stretching westerly as far as Ontario.

And, after the erruption of Krakatoa, in 1983, the moon appeared blue for almost two years.

The earliest recorded usage of the term blue moon is found in an anti-clerical pamphlet (attacking the Roman clergy, and cardinal): 

O churche men are wyly foxes […] Yf they say the mone is blewe / We must beleve that it is true / Admittynge their interpretacion.

The term ‘blue moon’ has three meanings:

  1. a rare occurance or is said to be, ‘Once in a blue moon.’
  2.  an extra full moon: where a year which normally has 12 full moons has 13, or
  3. when the colour the moon appears to be blue.

Very rarely, does a monthly Blue Moon occur in the same calendar year. This will next happen in the year 2048, when a monthly Blue Moon falls on January 31, and a seasonal Blue Moon on August 23.

Then, 19 years later, in 2067, there will be a monthly Blue Moon on March 30, and a seasonal Blue Moon on November 20. In this instance, there are 13 full moons between successive December solstices – but only 12 full moons in one calendar year and no February 2067 full moon.

Mark your calendars

2048 – January and August

2067 – March and November


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