Calendric Quagmires (II): Blue Moons and Little Green Men
1950 marked the middle of the 20th century during a time when the world was changing drastically. Post-World War II ushered in the atomic age, as well as rockets, missiles, and jets. Babies were booming and nuclear bombs were mushrooming in the deserts of Nevada. People began to look up at the sky more. Strange lights appeared over the Scandinavian skies after the war. Perhaps the Russians are spying on Europe? This was followed by the flying saucer frenzy over the United States. The Mount Rainer Saucer sighting of ‘47, the Air Force plane crash piloted by Thomas Mantell and of course the Roswell Saucer crash were the most notable incidents.
Invasion of the Saucer Men type stories would become the staple of 1950 and beyond. One of my favorite tales took place on July 2, 1950, near a mining outpost at Steep Rock Lake in Ontario Canada. While picnicking and canoeing a man and his wife saw a double saucer with portholes and a rotating antenna come to rest on the surface of the lake. Ten figures, four feet tall, dressed in shiny clothing, emerged, and walked on deck like robots “changing direction without turning their bodies.” Their faces could not be seen. One of them wore a red cap, had darker arms and legs, and seemed to be their leader. They immersed a brilliant green hose in the lake, apparently extracted water, and then took off.
Their story came out in September of that year in the mining company’s newsletter, Steep Rock Echo. Apparently, the personnel manager of the Steep Rock Iron Mines, and the editor of the paper, knew this story to be a joke and were said to have a good laugh when they read the account in Frank Edwards’ iconic 1965 book, Flying Saucers, Serious Business. Tabloids and social media will tell us, ‘close encounters’ of any kind may not be as rare, as say, Blue Moons. But blue moons, and blue suns in brownish skies, do happen. One of the best-documented occurrences this century happened during September 1950, causing a storm of flying saucer reports from Canada to England.
Around the time of the Steep Rock Echo Saucer Men Encounter publication, Canada was again being invaded, this time by forest fires in British Columbia and Alberta in the late summer of that year. On September 23, 1950, several muskeg fires that had been quietly smoldering for several years in Western Canada that had suddenly blew up into major forest fires. The winds carried the smoke eastward and southward with unusual speed and owing to sulfur particles in the upper atmosphere from these forest fires, the moon had taken on a bluish color, seen as far away as Great Britain on the night of Sept. 26, 1950. Here you had a true-Blue Moon being observed, not an illusionary calendar blue moon.
Ironically that same year, the May 1950 issue of Sky & Telescope, a subsection of the “Observer’s Page” featured “‘Blue’ Moons in May” wherein Henry Porter Trefethen — the editor of the 1937 Maine Farmers’ Almanac had answers to reader’s questions on months with two Full Moons and provides a list that goes back to 1836. It is this article that likely cemented the association between a “true-Blue Moon” with the calendric second full Moon in a month.
Blue Moons likely had its origin in the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac article relating that most years had only 12 full Moons but since a Lunar month is 29.5 days less than most calendar months, then it is only a matter of time that the moon occasionally comes a full thirteen times in a year forcing one of those extra Full Moons to be “blue” when sharing a calendar month with the preceding Full Moon or being a third full moon in a season of four Full Moons. The Maine Farmers’ Almanac uses the tropical year, which is measured from one winter solstice to the next). Most tropical years have 12 full Moons — or three per season. But true-Blue Moons do happen and have been witnessed by many:
Carroll Rudy of Wisconsin: “It happened on a Sunday in the September of 1950 – September 24 to be exact. I was a 13-year-old living in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania near Corry. People were very frightened, and some thought the world was coming to an end. Others thought the Russians had done ‘something’ as the Cold War was in full flower then. Some thought the dreaded nuclear holocaust had come, but most people I knew thought it was a secret government smoke-screen experiment related to Cold War defense.”
“The sun disc when visible appeared blue or purple. As it appeared and disappeared through breaks in the clouds it seemed to be in motion — hence the basis for the impression of flying saucers” noted Dr. Sue Ann Bowling, an Associate Professor of Physics at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska. “Blue or lavender suns and moons, like blue skies, owe their color to scattering of light in the atmosphere. The difference is in the size of the particles doing the scattering. The sky is blue because the molecules of air are much smaller than the wavelength of visible light. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than red and reacts more strongly with the tiny molecules than red does. The effect is called Rayleigh scattering, and it is responsible for what is called Tyndall blue. Blue eyes, some blue feathers, and the bluish color of the veins in your skin are all due to Rayleigh scattering.”
I’ve personally seen the moon with a distinct bluish tint to it. Thanksgiving Day 1996, I was bike riding in Queens County, New York City in the early morning. Upon entering the local cemetery, just before daybreak, I noticed the New York City skyline was orange with gray cumulus clouds in the foreground. The cloud cover came up approximately 30 degrees. The Moon, three days past Full, just above the cloud cover had a bluish haze around it, with high cirrus clouds rolling in at that moment. I took some pictures after rushing home to get my automatic 35mm camera. Though they lacked detail and the Moon’s bluish color was not easily discernible on the photo. I mailed them to Astronomy Magazine, but they returned the photos with a polite letter explaining why they couldn’t use them. They did confirm that the moon could take on a bluish color due to aerosols suspended in Earth’s atmosphere (an orange sky is usually a good indication of a high pollution content in the atmosphere, particularly sulfur dioxide). As the Age of The Cell Phone had not come into fruition, and there was no way to reach out through social media for witness confirmation without adequate pictures; Blue Moon, you left me standing alone.
Upcoming Blue Moons:
- Aug 30 2023 2nd Full Moon in a month
- Aug 19 2024 3rd Full Moon in season
- Calendric Quagmires (I): https://aaa.org/2022/03/01/conjunctions-and-calendric-quagmires/
- NASA Science: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2007/30may_bluemoon
- Sky & Telescope: https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/true-blue-moon/
- Blue Moons and Lavender Suns: https://www.gi.alaska.edu/alaska-science-forum/blue-moons-and-lavender-suns
- Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks: www.gi.alaska.edu/alaska-science-forum/basking-warmth-full-moon
- Time and Date: https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/moon/blue-moon.html
- URECAT – UFO Related Entities Catalog: http://ufologie.patrickgross.org/ce3/1950-07-02-canada-steeprocklake.htm