On Friday, August 31, 2012, there will be a “blue
moon.” But what the heck is a blue moon? Well... that all depends on your definition, and you have
three to pick from, not counting the popular brand of beer or The Marcel’s 1961 hit song.
The most current definition
of a blue moon is that of having two full moons in the same month. This definition has lent us the popular phrase “once
in a blue moon,” meaning something that doesn’t happen very often at all. However, the conditions that create
this meaning of a blue moon are truly not that rare. First, you need a month with 31 days (there are seven to pick from),
though it is possible (but less likely) in any month but February, and then you need for there to be a full moon at the first
of the month so 29 and ½ days later, in the same month, you can have another full moon, which happens about every 2
½ years, or more often than the presidential elections. (Rice)
The second, older definition is a bit more convoluted, and it is where our current definition of blue moon
stems from. The older definition for “blue moon” deals with the Christian ecclesiastical calendar.
In that calendar, each full moon has a name. Easter, for instance, is determined by the Paschal Moon. There is,
though, an exception. Some years have 13 full moons instead of 12, which means one season would have four full moons
instead of three. It was the third full moon out of four that became known as a blue moon, simply because it didn’t
officially have a name. (Brunner) As well, it couldn’t be the fourth full moon in that season that was called
a blue moon because then the names of other full moons, “such as the Moon Before Yule and the Moon After Yule [would
not] fall at the proper times relative to the solstices and equinoxes.” (Olson)
How that definition for a blue moon became the current definition is attributed to several
editorial mistakes. The third full moon in a season being a blue moon was the definition that was listed in the Maine
Farmers’ Almanac from 1932 to 1957. In a July 1943 article on blue moons in Sky & Telescope
magazine, Laurence J. Lafleur wrongly interpreted the old Farmers’ Almanac, confusing a tropical year for a
calendar year, though he never mentioned any specific dates, nor did he mention that a blue moon had anything to do with two
full moons in one month. We leave that mistake for an amateur astronomer named James Hugh Pruett. In 1946, once
again in Sky & Telescope, Pruett confused both the Farmers’ Almanac and Lafleur and came up with
the current definition for a blue moon. (Olson)
This definition was then used by Deborah Byrd, who relied on Pruett’s definition for the January
31, 1980, edition of StarDate, a popular radio program, and was further used by Margot McLoon-Basta and Alice Sigel
in their popular Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts, which was published in 1985. From that point
on, this has been the definition that we use, even appearing as the answer in the board game Trivial Pursuit. (The
next Blue Moon is August 31, 2012)
if all this isn’t confusing enough, there are times when the moon really can turn blue, which is perhaps the rarest
of them all. A moon doesn’t have to be full, though, to appear blue, nor does the date have anything to do with
it. There just needs to be enough ash particles high enough in the atmosphere, and if those ash particles are the right
size, then “they can block reds and yellow from getting to our eyes, giving us tints of blue — and sometimes green
— moons.” (Newcomb)
were blue moons, for instance, many years after the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded in 1883 with the force of a 100-megaton
nuclear bomb. As well, though far less dramatic, there were blue moons following the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in
1980, El Chichon in 1982, and Mount Pinatubo in 1991. It is even possible for a large forest fire to cause a blue moon.
So what does all this mean?
Really, not a darned thing. Fairies won’t dance, wishes won’t be granted, and children conceived under the
light of the blue moon won’t be smarter, cuter, or less inclined to believe astrological nonsense. However, it
could be as good a reason as any – if you need a reason at all – to sit out on your porch and drink a Blue Moon
and listen to the Marcels. And if that’s the case, then you’d better have an extra beer or three, because
if you miss this blue moon, then you’ll have to wait until July 31, 2015, to see the next one... barring, of course,
the outside chance of a volcano. (Rice)
Moon.” 7 July 2004. NASA Science. 30 Aug. 2012. http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2004/07jul_bluemoon/
“Blue Moon – The Marcels – 1961.” YouTube. 30 Aug. 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7giOrKYIwpQ
Brunner, Borgna and Anne Marie Imbornoni. “Once in a Blue Moon.” 30 Aug. 2012. infoplease.
30 Aug. 2012. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bluemoon1.html
Newcomb, Tim. “Turning Blue: Friday’s Full Moon a ‘Blue Moon.’” 30
Aug. 2012. Time News Feed. 30 Aug. 2012. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/30/turning-blue-fridays-full-moon-a-blue-moon/
“The next Blue Moon is August 31, 2012.” 21 Aug. 2012. EarthSky: A Clear Voice for
Science. 30 Aug. 2012. http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/when-is-the-next-blue-moon
Olson, Donald W, Richard Tresch Fienberg, and Roger Sinnott. “What’s a Blue Moon?”
2012. Sky & Telescope. 30. Aug. 2012. http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/moon/3304131.html
Rice, Tony. “‘Blue Moon’ definition based on a mistake.” 30 Aug. 2012.
WRAL WeatherCenter Blog. 30 Aug. 2012. http://www.wral.com/weather/blogpost/11487264/
Great Ironies of All Time
Nothing is better than good ol’ fashioned irony...
You know... where you hope for one thing to happen, and another, generally the opposite of what you were intending to happen
in the first place, happens instead. The following are some of my all time favourite ironies.
“The Pledge of Allegiance” was written in 1892 by socialist minister Francis
Bellamy. Bellamy’s original version was missing both the phrase “the Flag of the United States of America”
(his version was simply “my flag”) and the contentious “under God.” Bellamy had originally intended
the pledge to be used by anybody in any country. As well, he would’ve definitely objected to including a reference
to “god,” which was added in 1954 as a response to the Communist threat. (The Pledge of Allegiance)
Mother’s Day was championed by Anna Jarvis back
in the early years of the 20th Century. Jarvis had meant for Mother’s Day to be “’a day
of sentiment, not profit...’” for the greeting card industry, “...which she saw as ‘a poor excuse
for the letter you are too lazy to write.’” To her dying day in 1948, Jarvis regretted ever creating the
holiday and lobbied in vain to get it repealed. (Strauss)
Osama bin Laden came to represent all that was evil in the world following Al-Qaeda’s September 11
attacks in 2001. However, back in the 1980s, Bin Laden was involved with an anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan that was
in the least funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia. And more than likely, bin Laden was even trained by the CIA.
(Al-Qaeda’s origins and links) An enemy of my enemy is my friend... maybe not this time.
“Al-Qaeda's origins and links.” 20 July 2004. BBC News. 16 Aug. 2012.
“The Pledge of Allegiance.” 2012. Historic Documents. 16 Aug. 2012. http://www.ushistory.org/documents/pledge.htm
Strauss, Valerie. “Why Mother’s Day founder came to hate her creation (and more on moms, gifts,
baby names etc.).” 13 May 2012. The Washington Post. 15 Aug. 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-mothers-day-founder-came-to-hate-her-creation-and-more-on-moms-gifts-baby-names-etc/2012/05/13/gIQAy