The Washington Post

Tonight’s “alternative” Blue Moon

The moon, not quite full, on August 18 (Kevin Wolf via Flickr)

Usually, when we talk about a Blue Moon, we’re referring to the relatively rare occurrence of a second full moon in a single month.

But just like months sometimes squeeze in an extra full moon, so do seasons.  Instead of having just three full moons, seasons – from time to time – tack on a fourth.

So there’s an alternative definition of Blue Moon: the third full moon in a four moon season.  As tonight’s full moon is the third of four this summer, it’s a Blue Moon by this standard.

“[T]his definition actually preceded the more modern definition of a Blue Moon as being the second of two full moons to occur in one calendar month,” writes Earth Sky.

A Blue Moon is equally rare whichever definition you prefer.

“[I]t’s inevitable that 7 out of 19 years will feature two full moons in one calendar month,” Earth Sky notes. “And it’s also inevitable that 7 out of 19 years will have four full moons in one season.”

“Once in a Blue Moon,” as the saying goes.

Related: Blue moon: one small mistake, giant folklore for the sky | Blue moon and Sturgeon moon in August 2012

Of course, under either definition, the term “Blue Moon” is a misnomer, as the moon is not actually the color blue.

In Washington, tonight’s Blue Moon rises at 7:27 p.m. in the eastern sky and sets Wednesday morning at 7:05 a.m.  Thus, from dusk to dawn, the Blue Moon will glow.  It is officially 100 percent full at 9:45 p.m.

Tonight’s full moon is also known as the Sturgeon Moon. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, fishing tribes near the Great Lakes are credited with naming this moon – identifying the season when ample sturgeon were caught.

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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