Jan 25, 2010
Jan 4, 2010
The most literal meaning of blue moon is when the moon (not necessarily a full moon) appears to a casual observer to be unusually bluish, which is a rare event. The effect can be caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere, as has happened after forest fires in Sweden and Canada in 1950 and 1951, and, notably, after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which caused the moon to appear blue for nearly two years. Other less potent volcanos have turned the moon blue, too. People saw blue moons in 1983, for instance, after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico, and there are reports of blue moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.
On September 23, 1950, several muskeg fires that had been smoldering for several years in Alberta, Canada suddenly blew up into major--and very smoky--fires. Winds carried the smoke eastward and southward with unusual speed, and the conditions of the fire produced large quantities of oily droplets of just the right size (about 1 micron in diameter) to scatter red and yellow light. Wherever the smoke cleared enough so that the sun was visible, it was lavender or blue. Ontario, Canada and much of the east coast of the U.S. were affected by the following day, and two days later, observers in England reported an indigo sun in smoke-dimmed skies, followed by an equally blue moon that evening.
The key to a blue moon is having lots of particles slightly wider than the wavelength of red light (0.7 micron)--and no other sizes present. This is rare, but volcanoes sometimes spit out such clouds, as do forest fires. Ash and dust clouds thrown into the atmosphere by fires and storms usually contain a mixture of particles with a wide range of sizes, with most smaller than 1 micron, and they tend to scatter blue light. This kind of cloud makes the moon turn red; thus red moons are far more common than blue moons