Once in a blue moon event on tap

If you’ve been waiting for that special something that happens once in a blue moon, this may be your lucky month – and you’ve got three weeks to prepare for it. A blue moon will occur Aug. 31.

I don’t know about your calendar, but mine doesn’t designate blue moons, or any moon phases at all – only holidays. Note to self: A purchase of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Moon Calendar would remedy that omission.

There’s an issue, though, and I’m wondering how that calendar addresses it. There are two kinds of blue moons – seasonal blue moons and monthly blue moons. Not to mention The Marcels’ rock ‘n’ roll classic from the 1960s.

And, say, did you know that Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis, Mel Torme and Billie Holliday – among others – also recorded “Blue Moon”? I certainly didn’t. I thought it originated with The Marcels’ doo-wop version. What’s more, it wasn’t just some upstart rock group that penned the song’s lyrics. The songwriting duo of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart entered the history books for that accomplishment, registering authorship of the ballad (yes, ballad) in 1934. 

But back to our original topic – the actual blue moon set to appear Aug. 31. The Enigma Explorer has donned her hat again to illuminate the Blue Moon Mystery.

The seasonal blue moon, which is the older definition of the two that currently exist, refers to the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. The monthly blue moon, which is the classification of our August 2023 moon, is defined as the second full moon within a calendar month. The latter definition is the modern version that’s more widely known today due to a historical misunderstanding. 

Yep, the modern definition occurred because of confusion stemming from a 1946 article in “Sky & Telescope” magazine. The story mistakenly interpreted the term “blue moon” as the second full moon in a calendar month, instead of its more original meaning. Over time, the misinterpretation gained popularity and is usually the type of blue moon that people currently refer to.

Now, to put things into perspective and show just how infrequent a blue moon is, consider that from 2000 to 2050, only 19 seasonal blue moons occur and only 17 monthly blue moons. The next seasonal blue moon will be Aug. 19, 2024, and after Aug. 31, the next monthly blue moon will be May 31, 2026. So if you do the math, you’ll see that they transpire only every two to three years, depending on the lengths of the months and the lunar cycle.

Actually, regardless of the definition you prefer, it’s appropriate to point out that the term “blue moon” has been in use for hundreds of years. Its etymology and also the usage of “once in a blue moon” are complicated. Consider: 

The phrase “the moon is blue” was used in the 13th century to indicate something was absurd or not possible … “Once in a blue moon” was used in the 16th century to denote “very rarely” … “Blue moon” was used in the early 1900s as a way of referring to an extra full moon in a season … And, finally, as noted above, the term was mistakenly interpreted in 1946 as a way of referring to an extra full moon in a month.

Whatever the definition, as Aug. 31 approaches, one thing is certain. The dance of the moon across the sky continues to be as enchanting as the ballads penned by Rodgers and Hart … and as fun as “bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom … dang a dang dang ding a dong ding ….”

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