Why does the Moon change color? Read about what a pink, blue or red Moon mean and how the Moon inspires various groups of the Earth’s population differently.
- The Romantic Moon
- What is a Worm and a Pink Moon?
- One Day in a Blue Moon
- Why Does the Moon Change Color?
- What Is a Luna Eclipse?
- Luna – a Hollywood Darling
- The Moon as a Model
- Luna in Fashion
- The Gender of the Moon
- My Hubby, Me, and the Moon
- What Causes the Colors around the Moon?
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The Romantic Moon
There is something special about the Moon. Just think about all those songs that have been written and sung. For instance, “Moon River”, or the title song “There is a red Moon rising…” of the movie Major League. The dogs hauling at the Moon. No kitsch love story where the couple is not meeting somewhere romantic under the full Moon. Maybe even secretly against the will of family and Co.
All the romantic photos especially of the Moon’s light, which actually is the Sun’s light reflected, on the water. Sorry, it’s the scientist in me making that non-romantic remark for the sake of the facts. And yes, it’s also the honesty about to give credit where it has to be given too, right?
One Day in a Blue Moon
When I was a visiting graduate student at SUNY, Albany, my girl friend Britta and I browsed thrift stores. In one of them I saw a beautiful wood, metal and gemstone inlay belt buckle. It showed a turquoise moon over a mountain landscape. I was like “Why would anyone do a blue moon?” The only explanation for why does the Moon change its color to blue was a bluish appearance due to smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere like it reportedly did after the eruption of Krakatoa. She explained me the American saying “One time in a blue moon.” For my European readers, this saying refers a second full moon in a calendar month. Given that the lunar day is about 28 Earth days, it rarely happens.
Worm Moon and Pink Moon
The last full moon before the changing of the seasons on the March equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is often referred too as the Worm Moon. The first full moon of the astronomical spring in the Northern Hemisphere is called (among other nicknames) Pink Moon. This name is independent of the Moon’s color. Actually, the term “pink” relates to the color of spring flowers.
Nevertheless, Earth’s natural satellite sometimes seems to be pink, orange or even red. The reasons are the same as for the Sun appearing red at noon during wildfires or the sky sunrise and sunset or the pink light in Fairbanks in January.
What Is a Luna Eclipse?
A lunar eclipse also can lead to the Moon looking reddish. During such an event, the Earth is passing between the Sun and the Moon. Consequently, the Moon is no longer fully illuminated by the Sun because the Earth’s shadow (called umbra from Latin meaning shadow) falls onto the Moon. Such an astronomical event only occurs at full moon, when concurrently, the Moon is close to a lunar node. Under these conditions, the Moon, Earth and Sun align in a straight manner. During lunar eclipses, one sees the shadow of the Earth moving on the Moon (see above photo). In full shadow, the Moon appears to be red. When a moon is in the shadow of a planet, scientists call it an immersion.
Luna – a Hollywood Darling
Speaking of Major League many films relate to the Moon. I’m not speaking of Apollo 13, which is a great movie. I really loved how Ed Harris played Gene Kranz. No, I’m talking about the romantic, heroically or cynical movies. Think of Cher as Loretta Castorini in the love story of Moonstruck. The space craft of the Aliens approaching from behind the Moon in Independence Day. Or the moonlight in Night on Earth.
The Moon as a Model
Artists have been inspired by the Earth’s biggest satellite. Think of Vincent van Gogh‘s famous paintings of the starry night sky with descendant or ascendant moon, Rembrandt‘s Paris painting or Dali‘s Manhattan skyline. Obviously, in painting is the freedom of the artist what causes the Moon to change color.
Despite Earth’s Trabant has actually mineral soil colors, we often use yellow as its color.
Luna in Fashion
Of course fashion is an answer to the question “why does the Moon change color?” Moons have been printed on T-shirts, as an embellishment on our shower curtain, on backpacks, you name it. Remember the Moon-boots of the 70s? The space-age inspired fashion? The Sun-Moon dress? Jewelry with moonstones or just in the shape of the Earth’s satellite.
The Gender of the Moon
It’s fascinating how different cultures look at the Moon. The Moon is male in German, but female in French and many other Romanic languages. In RR Tolkiens ” Lord of the Rings” the Moon is male, and the Sun female. In kindergarten, which starts at age 3 in Germany, we drew the Moon with a pipe. And of course, it was an ascending Moon with a big nose one, eye and a mouth. I wonder how the Moon is drawn in cultures where it is female.
Thank You NASA
My fascination about the Moon started in 1969. I started a real revolt to be allowed to watch the landing. I consumed every Walt Disney comic where Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Co. landed on the Moon. Taking a peek thru my Dad’s telescope to see the craters on a clear night was one of my favorites. Read how NASA inspired me when I was a 7 years old girl.
Interestingly, Neil Armstrong never became one of my personal heroes like he was for many of my generation. For me it was important who peed there the first. On the contrary, Eugene Francis Kranz, who was the flight director during the Gemini and Apollo programs, is one of my heroes. I really love his saying
Failure is not an option! – Gene Kranz
Apollo 13 really impressed me and inspired my interest in STEM. I still have the image in front of my eyes – the reporter and the scientist who hold a ball and a piece of paper to illustrate how thin the “window” is in which the spacecraft had to fly to get back to Earth and not bounce off to who knows where.
And yes, I wondered why all the astronauts where male. No wonder that a female kosmonaut became one of my heroines.
My Hubby, Me and the Moon
I love to remember the Moon lunar eclipse that my hubby and I watched sitting at -10oC (14 F) on the stairs of the weather hut in the backyard of the Meteorological Institute of the University Leipzig. The red color was just amazing.
Another Moon related related memory is working together using measurements made at various Apollo landings on the Moon. We used the Moon’s data to evaluate a model that we wanted to apply to an Earth without an atmosphere. The entire idea was to assess what the impact of the Earth’s atmosphere for the Earth’s temperature conditions.
Why did we do this? Well, you can’t evaluate a model for an Earth without atmosphere as the Earth has an atmosphere. However, the Moon is made up of similar material as the Earth and at similar distance from the Sun as the Earth. It actually is tidally locked with the Earth meaning that the Moon always shows the same side to Earth. A Moon day is 28 Earth days. Therefore, we had to consider the different rotations of Moon and Earth, and the slightly different distances from the Sun. The paper about that is pretty heavy on math, but just in case you want to look at it, see the link in the references.
What Causes the Colors around the Moon?
Often small ice crystals that are in the air build a corona in all colors of the rainbow around the Moon. This color display is called a halo.
P.S. Have you seen my Mother’s Day gift inspirations already?
Kramm, G., Dlugi, R., and Mölders, N., 2017. Using Earth’s Moon as a Testbed for Quantifying the Effect of the Terrestrial Atmosphere. Natural Science, 9, 251-288. doi: 10.4236/ns.2017.98026.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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