Friday, January 1, 2010

Apple #428: Blue Moons

Tonight, the last night of 2009, happens to be a blue moon.

Blue moon
(You can download this photo as a desktop wallpaper from Desktop Rating)

  • A blue moon is the second full moon that occurs within the same month.
  • Since a full lunar cycle takes 29.5 days, it's very rare that two full moons will happen within the same calendar month. So the phrase "once in a blue moon" is meant to indicate rarity.
  • But this is a relatively new meaning.
  • Previous meanings have included:
  • The fourth full moon in a season, which usually has three. According to this meaning, the blue moon could occur in the last month before the beginning of the new season, which would be the month before the equinox or solstice. This means there could be a blue moon in February, May, August, or November.
  • Even older than this meaning is the sense of the moon visually appearing blue. This happens because of a lot of smoke or dust particles in the air. And by a lot, I'm talking due to major catastrophes such as the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883 which was so enormous it may have been akin to a 100 megaton nuclear bomb. The particles in the air afterwards made the moon look blue every month for two years.
  • The phrase originally -- way back in the 1500s -- meant "never." According to people way back when, the moon was obviously not blue. So when people said that if I say such & such a thing happened once in a blue moon, that meant it never happened.
  • But apparently people learned that blue moons actually are possible and, as most of us know today, we should never say never. So now a blue moon can happen, but not very often. So the phrase no longer means "never" but "rarely." And our definition of what exactly a blue moon is has changed. We now accept that blue moons are not only possible, but that they occur according to a specific pattern.
  • The definition of two full moons in a month is the prevalent one now. According to this meaning, we will see blue moons once every three years or so.
  • Our next blue moon will occur in April 2012.

Blue moon photo from NASA. So you know it's possible. Except this photo was taken using a blue filter over the lens.

  • There's also blue moon ice cream.

(Photo of blue moon ice cream, and a recipe using soy milk, available at Speed Bump Kitchen)

  • People have a hard time describing the exact flavor of blue moon ice cream. Descriptions and flavorings have included
  • bubble gum
  • cotton candy
  • marshmallow
  • frosting
  • Froot Loops
  • blue curacao
  • peach
  • nutmeg
  • lemon
  • cherry
  • orange
  • pineapple
  • licorice
  • coconut
  • almond
  • pistachio
  • ginger
  • custard
  • buttercream
  • cloves
  • chocolate
  • vanilla
  • or some combination thereof. This flavor confusion is partly due to the fact that different ice cream makers use different flavors for their blue moon ice cream. I think it's also because no food in real life has the color of blue moon ice cream, so the visual confusion also confuses our palate.
  • It's probably best to say that the flavor of blue moon ice cream is about as mysterious as blue moons themselves.
  • The first blue moon ice cream may have been made at Sherman Dairy Products in South Haven, Michigan. I've had their ice cream and it sure is good. Even my family's dog once sneaked into their ice cream store.
  • Blue Moon beer, meanwhile, is more specific about its flavors.

Blue Moon beer with orange slice
(Photo from Rate Your World)

  • It's a wheat beer made in Denver, Colorado, and its brewers say their beer is made from white wheat, orange peel, and coriander. Wheat beers tend to be sweeter and cloudier than lagers most Americans are used to. I happen to have tasted some this evening, and I thought it was all right.
  • Finally, I have a song for you. You might expect the melancholy "Blue Moon," but that's not what I'm going to give you. I heard this song on my way home tonight, and it's a good one that most of us have probably forgotten. I invite you to stand up and do a little dance while you listen.

  • If you really want to hear "Blue Moon," here are some options for you:
  • Blue Moon, sung by Dean Martin -- closest to the version you're expecting, plus some soupiness, and Dean inexplicably putting his hand into his tuxedo jacket, and he screws up the word "whisper," which turns out to be kind of funny

But I sure do wish you'd listen to that King Harvest song. Give it another listen and you'll want to give a little shake of your hips. Trust me. And have a happy new year.

Related entries:
Full Moons, Orange and Otherwise
Lunacy and the Full Moon

Sky and Telescope, What's a Blue Moon?
inconstant moon, on blue moons
NASA, Blue Moon
Infoplease, Once in a Blue Moon
All About Blue Moon, Blue Moon Ice Cream
Blue Moon Brewing Company (must be 21+ to enter)
The Brew Club, Blue Moon Wheat Beer Review, May 15, 2009


  1. There's a Blue Moon Saloon in Sonoma, Calif. I think I'll go there and get drunk!

  2. That was a great post. I used to use the term 'once in a blue moon' all the time - and I had no idea what it really meant! Now I see there were even more meanings to the term than I had known before!

    The Blue Moon beer is pretty good - not the best of the style, but not bad at all. They also came out with seasonal beers like 'Rising Moon', 'Full Moon', 'Honey Moon' and 'Harvest Moon'.

    Happy 2010!

  3. Blue or not, the moon this past week was beautiful!

  4. Happy 2010 to you, too, Scott! Mr. Anonymous in Sonoma may already have gotten happy, so to speak.

  5. But you neglected the absolutely wonderful "Blue Moon" version by the Cowboy Junkies...


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