For more than half a century, whenever two full Moons appeared in a single month (which happens on average every 2 1/2 to 3 years), the second has been christened a “Blue Moon.” (In our lexicon, we describe an unusual event as happening “Once in a Blue Moon.”) However, there’s another definition of “Blue Moon” that has to do with the number of full Moons throughout a single season, which is the case in August 2024. But is this the correct definition?
Why “Blue” Moon?
For the longest time, nobody knew exactly why the second full Moon of a calendar month was designated as a “Blue Moon.” One explanation connects it with the word belewe from Old English, meaning, “to betray.” Perhaps, then, the Moon was “belewe” because it betrayed the usual perception of one full Moon per month? That makes sense!
However, in the March 1999 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, writer Phillip Hiscock decided to get to the bottom of the somewhat confusing origin of the term. It seems that the modern custom of naming the second full Moon of any given month a “Blue Moon” was actually based on a misinterpretation outlined in an article in the March 1946 Sky & Telescope magazine. That article was titled, “Once in a Blue Moon,” written by James Hugh Pruett, who incorrectly summarized what he read in the Maine Farmers’ Almanac (no relation to this Farmers’ Almanac based in Lewiston, Maine). Pruett declared that a second full Moon in a calendar month is a “Blue Moon.” However, Pruett’s summary was an incorrect interpretation of what the almanac was saying!
Blue Moon Seasonal Definition
After reviewing what was actually written in the Maine Farmer’s Almanac on the subject, Hiscock found that the Maine Farmers’ Almanac‘s definition of a “Blue Moon” was derived from a completely different (and rather convoluted) seasonal rule. As simply as can be described, the almanac stated that there are normally three full Moons for each season of the year. But when a particular season ends up containing four full Moons, then the third is called a Blue Moon. If you’re wondering how Pruett could make such an error in his interpretation, you’re not alone.
When Will the Next Blue Moon Appear?
There are two ways of determining a Blue Moon. The first is when there are two in one calendar month. The second is when there are four full Moons in any given season. According to the seasonal rule, the third Moon is considered to be “blue.”
Here is a list of Blue Moons according to the “seasonal” rule:
- August 19, 2024
- May 20, 2027
- August 24, 2029
- August 21, 2032
- May 22, 2035
There are two instances when we call a full Moon a “Blue Moon:”
- when there are four full Moons in a single season; the third is a Blue Moon, and
- when there are two full Moons in a single calendar month, the second is a Blue Moon.
Does The Moon Really Turn Blue?
On past occasions, usually after vast forest fires or major volcanic eruptions, the Moon has reportedly taken on a bluish or lavender hue. Soot and ash particles propelled high into the Earth’s atmosphere, can sometimes make the Moon appear bluish. But the full Moon of any month or season doesn’t turn blue in color.
Wondering when the next full Moon is? Check out the names, dates, and times of all the year’s full Moons!
Based on the above information, what do you think should be done to correct the definition of Blue Moon? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
All the phases are special in their own right. Let’s observe them all!!!
We agree!! We hope to be shedding more light (or a lot less, haha) on New Moons next!
Every Blue moon is both seasonal & monthly. Every Blue season has blue moon months so every 2.5-3 years/ season /month is a Blue moon 3rd moon is Blue if there is 1& 2 x2
13 is the uninvited one . Unfriendly 13 is a Blue moon .
This is a brilliant article! Admittedly, I had always followed the two full moons in a calendar month rule. However, I had then heard some old lore (possibly Celtic because of the lore surrounding a Sidh Moon/ Faerie Moon which supposedly refers to the second New Moon in a month) which stated if a calendar year had 13 Full Moons, the last Full Moon (thus in December) was considered the Blue Moon.
Considering what one of the other comments said about the Full Moon having bluish overtones in winter – it kind of makes sense too. Old lore is fascinating! I love how stories & traditions develop, and I love researching the roots of long-held ideas.
The Original saying, “once in a Blue Moon” was in reference to the Full Moon that occurred on the Winter Soltice. Being the middle of Winter in the northern hemisphere it was cold, thus the color Blue. Now, the “Once in a Blue Moon” was a rough measure of time of 17 1/2 years between these events. The term today was twisted to the 2nd full moon in a month by the Star Gazer on PBS back in the seventies. It’s really just the 2nd full moon in a month.
Hi Rod, it seems your information conflicts with ours, which came from an astronomer, so we stand by it.
I always have and will continue to use the “twice in one month” definition. It’s what I’ve always heard since I was a boy. I never heard of the 4 in a season deal until just recently, and I’ve been a sky and starwatcher since the 60s
I really like the article. I appreciate the information. Your article information will be passed on. Great job!
Thank you, Jodie! We’re glad you found it informative.
Interesting. Always wondered where that expression originated.