Blue moon

From Glossary of Meteorology

blue moon

  1. Those rare occasions when the moon takes on a markedly blue cast.

    Usually, when the moon (or sun) is seen low in the sky or even high in a polluted one, it is yellowish or reddish. This is a consequence of the greater extinction of short wavelength radiation by small particles and molecules. Yet, there are particle sizes for which extinction is greater for long wavelengths, and the moon seen through a sky populated by such particles is bluish. It is rare that a large population of the particles of the appropriate size (and only that size) are produced, so the blue moon is very rare: 1883 (Krakatoa), 1927 (a late monsoon in India), 1951 (forest fires in Alberta, Canada). Because of the rarity of blue moons, the phrase, "once in a blue moon," has been used metaphorically since the midnineteenth century to denote a real, but rare event.

  2. In recent times, often used incorrectly to mean the occurrence of a second full moon within a calendar month.

    This strange new use of the term, popularized by a board game in the mid-1980s, arose from a mistake made by the author of a magazine article written in the 1940s. Since two full moons in one month occur fairly regularly, it should not be considered a rare event.

Copyright 2022 American Meteorological Society (AMS). For permission to reuse any portion of this work, please contact [email protected]. Any use of material in this work that is determined to be “fair use” under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act (17 U.S. Code § 107) or that satisfies the conditions specified in Section 108 of the U.S.Copyright Act (17 USC § 108) does not require AMS’s permission. Republication, systematic reproduction, posting in electronic form, such as on a website or in a searchable database, or other uses of this material, except as exempted by the above statement, require written permission or a license from AMS. Additional details are provided in the AMS Copyright Policy statement.