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A New Year’s Eve Like This One Comes Once In A Blue Moon

Once in a blue moon … stargazers get ready for a spectacular New Year’s Eve

By Claire Bates
30th December 2009

Astrologers looking for portents for their 2010 horoscopes will have plenty to choose from as the year draws to a close.

New Year’s Eve will see two unusual stargazing events and one is so rare it occurs only once in a blue moon.

As revellers see out the first decade of the 21st century, astronomers will enjoy witnessing the 13th moon of the year.

A Blue Moon is the 13th moon in a year. Photographer Kostian Iftica used a blue filter to achieve this stunning shot of the moon over Massachusetts in 2004

Most years have twelve full moons, with one every four weeks – indeed the word ‘month’ comes from ‘Moon.’

However, each solar calendar year is around eleven days longer than a lunar year. This means that nearly every three years there is an extra full moon – also known as a ‘Blue Moon.’

Party goers in Europe and Asia will also be lucky enough to spot a partial lunar eclipse on the same evening. Those in Wales and western England are forecast to have the clearest skies in Britain.

The Moon will pass partly into the shadow cast by our planet, which is known as the umbra. The peak of the eclipse will be 7.23pm (GMT), when the Moon will darken and a portion from the bottom will disappear completely.

Such an event can only occur when the Sun, Earth and Moon are closely aligned.

Meanwhile a Blue Moon falling precisely on December 31st is very unusual. The last time it happened was in 1990, and the next time won’t be until 2028.

A lunar eclipse over Ireland in 2007. A partial eclipse will take place on New Year's Eve.
A lunar eclipse over Ireland in 2007. A partial eclipse will take place on New Year’s Eve.

The term ‘Blue Moon’ is steeped in British folklore. In Shakespeare’s day, Blue Moon simply meant rare or absurd.

Folklore expert Philip Hiscock said: ‘The phrase ‘Blue Moon’ has been around for more than 400 years, and during that time its meaning has shifted.’

The modern definition sprang up in the 1940s. In those days, the Farmer’s Almanac of Maine offered a very convoluted definition of a Blue Moon that included factors such as ecclesiastical dates.

The Sky & Telescope published an article in 1946 to try and clear up the meaning. Author James Hugh Pruett interpreted the Almanac as a Blue Moon being the ‘second (full moon) in a month.’

That was not correct but could be understood and the modern Blue Moon was born.

Those living in the late 19th century literally saw a blue moon in the years following the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa in 1883.

Plumes of ash had risen to the top of Earth’s atmosphere which strongly scattered red light, while allowing other colour wavelengths to pass through.



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