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What is a Blue Moon? Lunar spectacle enjoyed around the world

The blue supermoon rises behind Navy Pier Auditorium ( Kiichiro Sato / AP Photo )
The blue supermoon rises behind Navy Pier Auditorium ( Kiichiro Sato / AP Photo )

The world witnessed a rare super blue moon on Wednesday, a spectacular event which happens only once in a two- or three-year cycle.

Stunning pictures of the moon were taken around the UK and beyond, with the lunar event leading even the most reluctant stargazer to look up.

The rareness of the event brings with it traditions as well as superstitions and the phrase “once in a blue moon”.

This is what it all means.

What is a blue moon?

You may use the age-old phrase “once in a blue moon” to describe how often you find a fiver down the back of the sofa, or in reference to how many times you use your gym membership.

It refers to when a full moon occurs twice in the same month — and the name is more to do with the rareness of the event, as the moon itself does not appear blue.

On Wednesday, the moon appeared 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter than when it is furthest away. At 222,043 miles away, it was at one of its closest points to Earth in its full cycle. The first full moon was seen on August 1 at 222,159 miles away.

Full moons have different names depending on which month they fall in. The name for January, for example, is the Wolf Moon.

The moon rises above Havana (Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images)
The moon rises above Havana (Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images)

Why is it called a blue moon?

According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the term blue moon originated from the 16th-century expression “the Moon is blue”, meaning something that is impossible. Then, following the eruption of Krakatoa, an Indonesian volcano, in 1883, people reported seeing strange sunsets and a moon that appeared blue. Due to this event, a blue moon came to be known as something that happened rarely, rather than never.

Superstitions about blue moons

Along with blue moons come a slew of superstitions and myths, ranging anywhere from your likeliness of love to possible lunacy.

This is a round-up of some of them.

1. Close your curtains

It is believed that if any stray rays of light from the blue moon stream onto your sleeping body through the window, they will impart lunacy, a moon-induced insanity.

2. All things come in threes

According to Welsh tradition, if a member of your family dies during a blue moon, three more family members will follow. Better take your vitamins then.

3. Lose the specs

Apparently, looking at a blue moon through any type of glass will give you bad luck for 30 days, even if it’s just your reading glasses.

4. Go on a midnight stroll

Picking flowers and gathering berries during a blue moon is said to bring beauty to the beholder, which might not be a bad idea since swimsuit season is just around the corner.

The super blue moon sets behind Balmoral Clock in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow / PA)
The super blue moon sets behind Balmoral Clock in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow / PA)

5. Blue moon babies

There has long been an association between the moon and pregnancy, with different cultures speculating that women become more fertile during a blue moon (and, even better, a full moon).

6. Set some goals

It’s believed that if a person plans a goal under the blue moon, they will attain it quite soon after. There’s no harm in taking some time to really think about what you’d like to achieve in the immediate future, so perhaps this one is worth a go, after all.

7. Open your heart

Many cultures believe that you have a higher chance of falling in love during a blue moon.

The full moon rising over Israel’s west bank (Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images)
The full moon rising over Israel’s west bank (Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images)

8. Beware of the black moon

What’s even rarer than a blue moon? A black moon. Every 19 years, January and March are blue moon months, meaning February does not have a full moon at all. These black moon months are believed to cause anger, frustration, and resentment.

The next black moon isn’t until 2037, so you have plenty of time to prep for it before it comes around.

9. Blue moons foster betrayal

According to some superstitions, blue moons come from the old word for blue, ‘belewe’, which means ‘to betray’. So keep your friends at a distance this weekend, and expect betrayals on the night of the blue moon... or worse, discover that you’re the betrayer.

10. Unlucky December

If 13 full moons happen to fall in the same year, the 13th moon is considered to be very, very unlucky. The last 13th moon occurred on the night of December 22, 2018, as during that year there were two blue moons. The next 13th moon will make an appearance in 2037. The same year as the dreaded black moon.