August 31 will be the last Blue Moon, the second full moon in a single month, until July 2015. A “blue moon’ occurs approximately every 2.7 years. On rare occasions, as in 1999, it happens twice. Joe Rao at Space.com explains the term “blue moon” its origins and some interesting astronomical lunar trivia:
The phrase “once in a blue moon” was first noted in 1824 and refers to occurrences that are uncommon, though not truly rare. Yet, to have two full moons in the same month is not as uncommon as one might think. In fact, it occurs, on average, about every 2.66 years. And in the year 1999, it occurred twice in a span of just three months.
For the longest time no one seemed to have a clue as to where the “blue moon rule” originated.
It was not until that “double blue moon year” of 1999 that the origin of the calendrical term “blue moon” was at long last discovered. It was during the time frame from 1932 through 1957 that the Maine Farmers’ Almanac suggested that if one of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer or fall) contained four full moons instead of the usual three, that the third full moon should be called a blue moon.
But thanks to a couple of misinterpretations of this cryptic definition, first by a writer in a 1946 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, and much later, in 1980 in a syndicated radio program, it now appears that the second full moon in a month is the one that’s now popularly accepted as the definition of a blue moon.
Blue Moon/New Moon
While we’ve assigned the name blue moon to the second full moon of the month, it seems that we have no such name for the second new moon of the month. Nonetheless, these opposing phases seem to be connected with each other. For if two new moons occur within a specific month, then in most cases, four years later, two full moons will also occur in that very same month.
Aug. 1, Full Sturgeon Moon, when this large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, such as Lake Champlain, is most readily caught. A few tribes knew this moon as the Full Red Moon because when the moon rises, it appears reddish through sultry haze (in 2012, The Old Farmer’s Almanac gives this moniker to the full moon of Aug. 31). Other variations include the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.
Aug. 31, Full Corn Moon. Sometimes also called the Fruit Moon; such monikers were used for a full moon that occurs during the first week of September, so as to keep the Harvest Moon from coming too early in the calendar.
The first two days of August are also the Wiccan holiday of Lughnasadh,or Lammas, the first of three harvest festivals celebrating the bounties of Mother Earth. The name is derived from the Irish god, Lugh, who dedicated the festival to his foster mother who died clearing a forest for planting. It marks the beginning of the harvest when apples are ripe, wheat and corn are ready to harvest. Herbs and flowers are ready to be picked and dried and fruit are prepared for preserving, seeds are gathered for Spring planting. To celebrate, a fire is lit and the table is spread with the bounties of the harvest and decorated with seasonal flowers. The first wines and beers are placed in pitchers and dinner is grilled meat and vegetables from the garden seasoned with fresh herbs.
It’s raining here tonight, so our celebration will be postponed until tomorrow night. We are hoping for a glimpse of the moon as the storms move out of the area tonight.