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Twice in a Blue Moon in 2018

This year, in 2018, we have two months (January and March) that harbor a Blue Moon by the monthly definition of the term – the second of two full moons to fall in one calendar month. The first Blue Moon comes on January 31, 2018, and the second on March 31, 2018. The precise instant of this year’s first Blue Moon (and 2nd January full moon) on January 31 is 13:27 UTC. Although the full moon happens at the same instant worldwide, the hour differs by time zone. At North American and US times zones, that places the time of January 2018 Blue Moon at:

9:27 a.m. AST
8:27 a.m. EST
7:27 a.m. CST
6:27 a.m. MST
5:27 a.m. PST
4:27 a.m. AKST
3:27 a.m. HST

So by the time that you read this post, the full moon instant and the total eclipse of the moon might have already passed. From the Americas, the moon that we see on the evening of January 31 is actually a waning gibbous moon, though it’ll likely appear plenty full to the eye. That bright star near tonight’s moon is Regulus, the constellation Leo the Lion’s sole 1st-magnitude star.

How often do we have a Blue Moon? For the answer, you have to look to a concept from astronomy and calendar studies, at what’s called the Metonic cycle.

The Metonic cycle is a period of 19 calendar years (235 lunar months), after which the new and full moons realign with the same (or nearly the same) dates of the year.

Therefore, 19 years from now, in 2037, we’ll again have another Blue Moon in January and March.

Blue moons don't really look blue in color.  Greg Hogan got this shot of a Blue Moon (blue in name only!) on July 31, 2015.  He wrote:

Blue moons don’t really look blue in color. Greg Hogan got this shot of the Blue Moon (blue in name only!) in a cloudy sky on July 31, 2015. He wrote: “Having some fun with the blue moon idea……I blended the same image twice one with a blue tint, and one normal. :) “

There are 235 full moons (235 lunar months) yet only 228 calendar months in the 19-year Metonic cycle. Because the number of full moons outnumber the number of calendar months, that means at least seven of these 228 calendar months must harbor two full moons (235 – 228 = 7 extra full moons).

However, if a February within this 19-year period has no full moon at all – as is the case in February 2018 (and February 2037) – that means this extra 8th full moon must fall into the lap of another calendar month, as well. Therefore, the year 2018 (and 2037) actually sport two Blue Moons, in January and March. Let us take a look at the 8 Blue-Moon months in the upcoming 19-year Metonic cycle:

1. March 31, 2018
2. October 31, 2020
3. August 31, 2023
4. May 31, 2026
5. December 31, 2028
6. September 30, 2031
7. July 31, 2034
8. January 31, 2037

Moreover, the Metonic cycle assures us that seven of 19 years will also feature a seasonal Blue Moon – third of four full moons to occur in one season. Season is defined as the time period between a solstice and an equinox – or vice versa. The last Blue Moon by the seasonal definition happened on May 21, 2016. The next seven seasonal Blue Moons in the 19-year Metonic cycle:

1. May 18, 2019
2. August 22, 2021
3. August 19, 2024
4. May 20, 2027
5. August 24, 2029
6. August 21, 2032
7. May 22, 2035

In short, we have a monthly Blue Moon whenever we have 13 full moons in one calendar year, and a seasonal Blue Moon whenever we have 13 full moons in between successive December solstices.

Bottom line: The second of two January 2018 full moons falls today, on January 31, 2018. By popular acclaim, the second full moon to occur in a single calendar month is known as a Blue Moon. Thanks to what is called the Metonic cycle, 19 years from now, in 2037, we’ll again have another Blue Moon in January.

Moon phases: 2001 to 2100

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Bruce McClure

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