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IF IT'S CLEAR TONIGHT, YOU'LL SEE A RARE BLUE MOON

SOMETHING special is in store for tonight, something rare, something luminous, something that happens only . . . once in a blue moon.

There will be a blue moon on New Year's Eve.

A blue moon, according to native Buffalonian Paul Krupinski, an intern/astronomer with the Strasenburg Planetarium of the Rochester Museum of Science, is the second full moon in a given month.

It is a relatively rare phenomenon, occurring only on the average every 2.7 years, Krupinski said.

Usually, there is one full moon in a month, Krupinski explained. The lunar cycle is about 29 1/2 days. Since most months have 30 or 31 days, every now and then there are two full moons in one month.

A full moon shone on the night of Dec. 2, and the blue moon will rise again tonight.

Krupinski said the last blue moon occurred in May 1988, and the one before that in July 1985. He estimates that the next one will appear in late spring or early summer of 1993.

Coincidentally, this blue moon will also be one of the most radiant. According to an article in the December issue of Natural History magazine, a combination of factors, including the close proximity of the moon to the Earth in its current orbit and the moon's position in the sky, could cause this full moon to be "the brightest of a lifetime."

Despite its name, the blue moon was not christened for its color.

The moon appears blue when "very, very fine ashlike particles are suspended in the atmosphere." Red and orange light is absorbed by the particles, while blue light is scattered. For example, Krupinski said, raging forest fires in California or a volcanic eruption can create enough particles in the atmosphere to cause the effect.

"You can see the effect, say, in a small bar, with dozens of smokers, a blue haze hovers over the room," he explained.

So how did the second full moon in a month get its name? Krupinski said the exact origin of the phrase is obscure.

Each month's full moon has a name, according to a recent article in Astronomy magazine. For instance, December's full moon is known as the Moon Before Yule or the Long Night Moon. When a second appeared in a month, it just came to be known as the blue moon.

Krupinski said there is little scientific research on the subject, because the blue moon occurs with scientific predictability. But its significance can be linked to the meshing of the lunar cycles and the man-made calendar.

To determine the last time a full moon occurred on New Year's Eve would require a special computer program, Krupinski said.

But he estimates that the last time these two events coincided may have been 100 years ago.

And the next time a blue moon appears on the eve of a new year may be decades away.

Enjoy it.

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