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Once in a Blue Moon

Fact and Fiction Behind May’s Second Full Moon


Fog permitting, get yourself outside tonight and check out the full moon rising over Santa Babylon. Though it won’t necessarily appear different in color, the moon, for the first time since the summer of 2004, will be casting the age-old mystical glow of an ever rare blue moon along the shores of the Pacific. No doubt parties will rage to celebrate the occasion and countless others will have “weird” nights as the combined powers of two full moons in one calendar month work upon their brains, but before you go off the pagan ritual deep end, a little history is required-especially in this instance as our May moon experience is a phenomenon of hugely odd and certainly confusing circumstances.

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The phrase “blue moon” has been with us for well over 400 years thanks to an arcane piece of poetry found in a 1528 pamphlet titled Rede Me and Be Not Wrothe. But it wasn’t until the Maine Farmers’ Almanac started, in the 1800s, using the phrase to describe the rare occasion when four full moons would occur within a quarter of the year. Specifically, the term was used to describe the third moon of the four moon string and it was special because quarters of the year typically see only three moons. And while the standard three moons would have mythological names associated with them - like the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon - the random extra moon had no such name and thus “Blue Moon” was adopted to describe this seldom experienced sight.

Furthermore, it was also during this time that all sorts of cool legends - like the blue moon’s ability to talk to you and tell you your future or infect you with love - started popping up. Unfortunately, as time marched on and the Almanac writers passed away, the meaning of a Blue Moon was lost and a newer, much more widely understood definition began to emerge. For some reason, a Blue Moon became the second full moon in any given Gregorian calendar month - an occurrence that is far from commonplace but, thanks to the various lengths of said months, is guaranteed to happen 41 times over the course of a century. That being said, when our moon goes blue tonight, you better enjoy it because it isn’t happening again until December 2009. (That is, unless of course you consider yourself an old school type of person and go by the Farmer’s original definition, in which case the next Blue Moon will occur coincidentally in May of next year.)

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Confused yet? Well, it gets worse.

Because of our wonderfully mind-blowing construct of time-zones, much of the world is walking around right now thinking that June is the actual month for the Blue Moon. For most of them, they are right. Because they live life varying amounts of hours ahead of us here in the Pacific time zone, they get the actual full moon on June 1 and then another later in June, thus making June their Blue Moon event. Alas, for us living under the tick and tock of Pacific Standard Time, the moon reaches its ripest point before the clock strikes midnight, giving us the dubious distinction of having a blue moon before the rest of the world.

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