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The Sciences

From a Pink Moon to Blue, the Moon's Colors Aren't Always Colorful

What are the different colors of the moon? Learn when the Pink Moon is visible and what it represents.

By Jack KnudsonApr 24, 2024 1:45 PM
Pink Moon
(Credit: drcmarx/Shutterstock)


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Between the solar eclipse and the upcoming Pink Moon, there are many events in the night sky to take note of in 2024. The moon itself has different phases and different colors that represent changing seasons. Thus giving us the names Pink or Blue Moon.

If you’re hoping to see the moon take on a new hue, though, you’re out of luck. The reason behind the Pink Moon’s colorful name is not what you may expect.

The Pink Moon Represents a Flower

The Pink Moon is a full moon that takes place during the month of April. In 2024, it is visible from Tuesday, April 23 to Thursday, April 25.

During this event, the moon does not actually turn a vivid shade of pink. Instead, the "pink" description represents the moss pink (also known as creeping phlox), a type of flower that spreads early in the spring.

In the 1930s, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac began using the Pink Moon name along with names for every other full moon, a custom that had been practiced by Indigenous tribes across the U.S. Other names for the Pink Moon include Grass Moon, Fish Moon, and Egg Moon. 

Read More: Earth's Moon: The Basics of its Origin, Evolution, and Exploration

The Blue Moon Is Seasonal

The “blue moon” is another misleading name. Just like the Pink Moon, a blue moon won’t undergo a color change and will look like any other full moon. There are two definitions of a blue moon: 

  • The first definition, called a seasonal blue moon, is the third full moon in a season with four full moons. This is a bit of a rarity, as most tropical years (from one winter solstice to the next) contain 12 full moons, 3 for each season.

  • The second definition (now widely used, but originally a mistaken interpretation of the seasonal blue moon) is called a monthly blue moon, which is the second full moon in a calendar month that has two full moons. 

Both seasonal and monthly blue moons occur every few years. The next seasonal blue moon is set to appear later this year, on August 19 or 20, 2024, while the next monthly one won’t appear until May 31, 2026. 

At one moment in history, the moon really did look blue due to a freak accident: After Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the moon appeared blue for about two years because sulfur dioxide and other particles that had been released into the atmosphere were blocking red light from reaching Earth.

Read More: The Moon Is Even Older Than Scientists Thought

The Harvest Moon Represents Fall

A harvest moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, marking the start of a new fall season in the Northern Hemisphere.

Unlike other kinds of full moons, it isn’t linked to a specific month and can occur in either September or October. The harvest moon is distinct in that it rises closer to sunset than other full moons, and the early moonlight was said to be a boon for farmers harvesting crops in the evening. 

Read More: The Beginning of Ramadan Is Signaled by Observations of the Moon

A Blood Moon Does In Fact Turn Red

A blood moon occurs when there is a total lunar eclipse, with the moon moving into the Earth’s inner shadow, or umbra (not to be confused with a total solar eclipse, when the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth). 

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon will look orange or reddish in color, hence the association with blood. This is because direct sunlight can't reach the moon; the moon instead receives light that passes through Earth’s atmosphere, and it will become redder if more dust or clouds are present in the atmosphere.

A total lunar eclipse is easier to view than a total solar eclipse. As long as you’re on the ‘night side’ of the Earth, you can look up and see a blood moon in its full glory. No need to wear eye protection or travel to a specific location. You can expect to view the next total lunar eclipse on March 14, 2025.

Read More: Earth's Moon Literally Turned Itself Inside Out

The Different Phases of the Moon

(Credit: Elena11/Shutterstock)

When looking at the lunar cycle, the Moon’s phases indicate the portion of the moon we can see that is illuminated by sunlight. Just like Earth, the moon always has one half lit by sunlight and another half that is dark (or a day and a night side).

The moon rotates at the same rate as its orbital motion (synchronous rotation), with one side facing Earth (the near side) and one facing away (the far side) at any point in time. As the moon goes through its orbit and receives a changing amount of sunlight, we see it gradually cycle through eight phases.

The New Moon Is the First Phase

A new moon is the first phase, when the moon’s illuminated side is facing away from Earth. In this phase, the moon is closest to the Sun during its orbit. On Earth, a new moon isn't visible in the night sky.

The moon usually doesn’t pass directly between the Earth and Sun, but when it does, the result is a solar eclipse. When there is a perfect alignment of the Sun, moon, and Earth, we experience a total solar eclipse, like the one in 2024. 

And What Is a Full Moon?

The full moon is the halfway point, when the moon appears entirely illuminated from Earth’s perspective – although only the near side is lit. At this time, the moon is farthest away from the Sun during its orbit.

A full moon occurs about once a month (roughly every 29.5 days). Though the peak of a full moon technically only lasts for a moment, it will still look fully illuminated for upwards of three days.

Throughout history, full moons have fueled folk tales and urban legends in various cultures, such as the belief that they alter human behavior. Many claims of a close link between the full moon and health have been seemingly debunked, as explored in a 2023 study. However, the lunar cycle does appear to affect the actions of certain animals.

Read More: Why Do We Still Believe in 'Lunacy' During a Full Moon?

Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

Jack is an assistant editor at Discover with a strong interest in environmental science and history. Before joining Discover in 2023, he studied journalism at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University and previously interned at Recycling Today magazine.

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