Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Story behind the Brilliant Blue Moon

By Dan Benton, Axalta Coating Systems Color Marketing Manager

I always considered myself to be pretty observant, but I am surprised by what I notice sometimes, especially now that my profession has me entrenched in a world of rich color.  There are so many different tools that we use to view our brilliant paint colors…spectrophotometers, calibrated color inspection lights, our AccuAngle Color Protractor and good old-fashioned natural light—which can be stunning even in the evening when a path is lit by the light of the moon. 

I was going for a spin one evening with my wife and noticed how amazing the sky looked.  The moon sported a shade of Brilliant Blue reminiscent of Axalta’s North American Automotive Color of the Year 2016.  So, when my wife mentioned that I only take her out every “blue moon,” I recalled something that my grandmother used to say.  She was fond of that very term “once in a blue moon.” She used it whenever we asked if my grandpa ever washed the dishes.

Your childhood may have been like mine; often hearing phrases, but seldom questioning their meaning.  Now that I am an adult, and more inquisitive than ever, I decided to investigate the meaning behind that term and it’s more interesting and science-y than I thought.

First off, a blue moon is always a full moon.  Apparently, there are two different ways to figure out which full moon is a blue moon.  The original definition says a blue moon is the third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons.  To geek out a bit, a normal year has four astronomical seasons just like our calendar year (spring, summer, fall, winter) each with three months and normally three full moons.  When one of the seasons has four full moons (not the normal three), the third full moon is called a blue moon.  Complicated, right?  

Another definition of blue moon is a twinge different.  Some months have two full moons.  Using this definition, the blue moon is the second of the two full moons in a month of the common calendar year. Either way you slice it, a blue moon appears about once every two or three years, give or take.

But, you may ask, what’s the deal with a moon that actually looks blue?  The moon, full or not, can have a Brilliant Blue appearance when the atmosphere is filled with dust or smoke particles of a certain size…just a little wider than 0.7 micron.  These particles scatter the red light making the moon appear blue in color.  The condition is most common after a dust storm, forest fire or a volcanic eruption.

Keep an eye on your calendars, because as you now know, a blue moon does occur somewhat regularly.  The last blue moon (following the third full moon in a season formula) was May 21, 2016.  The next one will appear on May 18, 2019.

I picked up a couple of other quick facts in my blue moon research:
The moon is inspirational in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare.
The song “Blue Moon” was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934.  The most popular version was recorded by The Marcels in 1961, an American doo-wop group from Pittsburgh.  Click here to listen:
Neil Armstrong was the first man to land on the moon in 1969. 
Blue Moon Investigations was the name of the detective agency in the TV series “Moonlighting” that starred a young Bruce Willis.
The theme song for the television show, “The Sopranos” by Alabama 3 references “a blue Moon in your eyes.”

Well, that’s enough work for today.  I think I will relax now… someone just told me about the Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream Company’s Blue Moon flavor.  And cut.