Blue Moon – What is a Blue Moon?

What is a Blue Moon? While the definition of what is a Blue Moon has changed over the years, the popular theory is that whenever two full Moons appear in a single month, the second is christened a “Blue Moon.” Due to our calendar days, the appearance of a Blue Moon is actually a relatively rare occurrence as one rises on average only once every 2 1/2 to 3 years. Most years have twelve full moons that occur approximately monthly, but sometimes the days of the month are less than the cycle of the moon, which is 29.5 days. This can cause the moon to rise twice in one month (the second being the “Blue Moon”), near the first and the last days of the same month. This relatively rare occurrence has spawned the saying “once in a blue moon”.

Blue Moon – Alternative Definitions

Different traditions and conventions place the extra “blue” full moon at different times in the year.

  • In calculating the dates for Lent and Easter, the Clergy identify the “Lent Moon.” It is thought that historically when the moon’s timing was too early, they named an earlier moon as a “betrayer moon” (belewe moon) because it betrayed the usual perception of one full Moon per month, allowing the “Lent Moon” to come at its expected time.
  • Folklore gave each full moon a name according to its time of year. A full moon that came too early had no folk name, and was called a Blue Moon, retaining the correct seasonal timings for future full moons.
  • The Farmers’ Almanac defined the Blue Moon as an extra full moon that occurred in a season; one season was normally three full moons. If a season had four full moons, then the third full moon was named a Blue Moon.

Blue Moon Definition Origins

In the March 1999 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, author Phillip Hiscock revealed one somewhat confusing origin of this term. It seems that the modern custom of naming the second full Moon of a month “Blue Moon,” came from an article published in the March 1946 Sky & Telescope magazine. The article was “Once in a Blue Moon,” written by James Hugh Pruett. In this article, Pruett interpreted what he read in a publication known as the Maine Farmers’ Almanac, and declared that a second full Moon in a calendar month is a “Blue Moon.”

“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.”

However, after reviewing the Maine Farmer’s Almanac, Hiscock found that during the editorship of Henry Porter Trefethen (1932 to 1957), the Maine Farmers’ Almanac made occasional reference to a Blue Moon, but derived it from a completely different seasonal rule. As simply as can be described, according to Trefethen’s almanac, there are normally three full Moons for each season of the year. Full moon names are given to each full moon in a season: For example, the first full moon of summer is called the Early Summer Moon, the second is called the Midsummer Moon, and the last is called the Late Summer Moon. But when a particular season ends up containing four full Moons, then the third of that season is called a Blue Moon so that the last can continue to be called the late moon. To make matters more confusing, the beginning of the seasons listed in Trefethen’s almanac were fixed. A fictitious or dynamical mean Sun produced four seasons of equal length with dates which differed slightly from more conventional calculations. So, basically the current use of “Blue Moon” to mean the second full Moon in a month can be traced to a 55-year-old mistake in Sky & Telescope magazine.

Widespread adoption of the definition of a “Blue Moon” as the second full moon in a month followed its use on the popular radio program StarDate on January 31, 1980.

Blue Moon Color

The most literal meaning of Blue Moon is when the moon (not necessarily a full moon) appears to a casual observer to be unusually bluish, which is also a rare event. The effect can be caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere, as has happened after forest fires in Sweden and Canada in 1950 and 1951, and after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which caused the moon to appear blue for nearly two years. Other less potent volcanos have also turned the moon blue. People saw blue moons in 1983 after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico, and there are reports of blue moons caused by Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

“Once in a Blue Moon”

The term “once in a Blue Moon” actually has nothing to do with the moon’s color. Instead, the term refers to the relatively rare occurrence of what is called a “Blue Moon.” This expression was first noted back in 1821 and refers to occurrences that are uncommon, though not truly rare.

When is a Blue Moon

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

A Blue Moon cannot happen in February because the calendar month never has enough days. Furthermore, sometimes the occurrence of a blue moon depends on your time zone. During 1993 a blue moon occurred in either in August or September depending on where you lived. If you lived east of the line that runs through the Atlantic Ocean, the blue moon occurred in September, but west of that line it occurred in August.

When is the next Blue Moon?

The Blue Moon dates are expressed in Coordinated Universal Time (UT), the international basis for other time zones. Since the lunar month is only 29 days long on the average, the full moon dates shift from year to year. For Blue Moon times in your city, please use the Time Zone Converter. You may also simply subtract five (5) hours to get to U.S. Eastern Time.

Full MoonYearDateTimeDay
Blue Moon2009Dec 3119:13Thurs
Blue Moon2012Aug 3113:58Fri
Blue Moon2015Jul 3110:43Fri
Blue Moon2018Jan 3112:27Wed
Blue Moon2018Mar 3112:37Sat
Blue Moon2020Oct 3114:49Fri

Popular Full Moon Names

The naming of the Blue Moon has a pretty interesting history. Do you want to learn about other Full Moon names? If so, check out the following full moon names: Wolf Moon, Snow Moon, Worm Moon, Pink Moon, Flower Moon, Strawberry Moon, Buck Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Harvest Moon, Hunters Moon, Beaver Moon, Cold Moon, and, of course, the Blue Moon!

Popular Full Moon Calendars

Some popular full moon calendars, in addition to the Blue Moon Calendar, include the following: Moon Calendar 2011, Moon Calendar 2012, Moon Calendar 2013, Moon Calendar 2014, Moon Calendar 2015, Moon Calendar 2016, Moon Calendar 2017, Moon Calendar 2018, Moon Calendar 2019, Moon Calendar 2020.

You can also check out our Full Moon Calendar, Lunar Calendar, Lunar Eclipse Calendar and Solar Eclipse Calendar!

Full Moon Names History

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

Full Moon names have been used by many cultures to describe the full moon throughout the year. Specifically, Native American tribes used moon phases and cycles to keep track of the seasons by giving a distinctive name to each recurring full moon, including the Flower Moon. The unique full moon names were used to identify the entire month during which each occurred.

Although many Native American tribes gave distinct names to the full moon, the most well known full moon names come from the Algonquin tribes who lived in the area of New England and westward to Lake Superior. The Algonquin tribes had perhaps the greatest effect on the early European settlers in America, and the settlers adopted the Native American habit of naming the full moons.