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Once in a blue moon

PUBLISHED: 14:05 30 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:05 30 January 2018

A passenger jet passes in front of a super moon near Heathrow Airport in 2005. Picture: TIM OCKENDEN/PA

A passenger jet passes in front of a super moon near Heathrow Airport in 2005. Picture: TIM OCKENDEN/PA

The moon has been a celestial object of mystery, myth and romance since the world began. And tonight is that once in blue moon moment

The full moon slowly loses its fullness as the earth's shadow crosses it in this combo picture takenin May 2004, in Athens, Greece. Picture: AP/PETROS GIANNAKOURISThe full moon slowly loses its fullness as the earth's shadow crosses it in this combo picture takenin May 2004, in Athens, Greece. Picture: AP/PETROS GIANNAKOURIS

How we love the moon...

Wolves howl at it; Shakespeare called it Phoebe, man has walked on it, we have imagined it to be made of blue cheese, it’s glow dominates our night sky; there is a man in it, lovers have kissed by its light; songwriters are in league with it; and the oceans depend upon it. Knitted characters the Clangers live on a “small moon-like planet.”

This very night our world will experience a triple lunar whammy. There will be a super moon, a blue moon and, in parts of the world (though not here) a lunar eclipse. It is being dubbed a “super blue moon” or a “super blue blood moon”.

What is a blue moon?

A Clanger (from the 1980s children's TV show) Picture: ARCHIVEA Clanger (from the 1980s children's TV show) Picture: ARCHIVE

It occurs when we have a second full moon in a month. The first full moon of January 2018 was on New Year’s Day and the second is tonight. Rare enough but when you couple the blue moon with a super moon – when Earth’s enticing satellite appears up to 14 per cent bigger and up to 30% brighter it’s even more rare.

Astronomers and astrologers and will be excited by the prospect of the moon, sun and the Earth in alignment as parts of the planet witness the “blood moon” associated with the eclipse. It will be visible at night in Asia, Australia, Pacific Ocean, and the West Coat of North America. We don’t get to see it in the UK because it will happen around 1.30 in the afternoon which should be daylight.

But the UK will see a lunar eclipse later this year. A total eclipse over London, also visible in East Anglia falls on July 27/28. The total eclipse should be seen in the south-east sky at 9.21pm and end at 10.13pm. The subsequent partial eclipse ends at 12.28am.

It all depends on a clear night, of course. Too often I have not seen spectacular meteor showers or passing space stations because it’s been cloudy over Suffolk and Norfolk. One of the biggest disappointments was Halley’s Comet. Other generations have seen it blaze through the sky... my generation was lucky to see a faint blip of light. It was, said the experts, the worst time to see it in 2,000 years. It will next appear in 2061 when I shall be a 106-years-old and, if alive, will probably have failing eyesight. How very unfair.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon in the iconic photo taken by first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Picture: NASAAstronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon in the iconic photo taken by first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Picture: NASA

According to Wikipedia, the moon, one of the most comforting features of our night sky, was probably formed about 4.51 billion years ago, not long after Earth. The most widely accepted explanation of its origins is that the moon formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body called Theia. The moon always shows us the same face and reflects with a little more than the brightness of “worn asphalt”. Its gravitational influence produces the ocean tides.

The moon’s distance from Earth is slowly increasing which means that future solar eclipses will not be as complete. Currently, we see it exactly covering the sun during a full solar eclipse.

In legend, the moon can prompt some extreme behaviour. I do not include the antisocial practice of “mooning” in this category. Perhaps the most devilment is caused at a full moon, when the mythological werewolves roam. It prompts the transformation of a human being into a wolf, also called lycanthropy. First mentioned in the first century, the werewolf was a widespread concept in European folklore and spread to the Americas with colonialism. Latterly it has become a part of the Gothic horror genre of fiction and was a major theme of the popular Twilight series of teen stories.

For a place with negligible atmosphere, the moon continues to thrill the population of Earth. As no one nation owns the moon, it continues to belong to the world’s lovers. Even though men have walked on the moon it has maintained its mystery and captures the imaginations of songwriters: Fly Me to the Moon; Dancing in the Moonlight; Moon River; Walking on the Moon; Blue Moon; How High the Moon; Au Clair de la Lune; Moonlight Sonata; Bad Moon Rising; Moondance; Moonshadow; Under the Moon of Love; By the Light of the Silvery Moon; Moonlight Bay; Moonlight Becomes You; Moonlight Serenade; That Old Devil Moon, and hundreds more.

• Moonrise in East Anglia varies between north and south, east and west but will be between c.4.20 and 5.20pm while moonset will be between c.6.50 and 7.35am. The best time to see it is around 2am GMT on January 31 (or even February 1). The next blue moon is on March 31 2018. There won’t be another until October 31 2020.

Finally...

“Hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced to the light of the moon,” thus the Owl and the Pussycat celebrated their nuptials in Edward Lear’s poem.

Moonshine: “This lanthorn doth the hornèd moon present.

Myself the man i’ th’ moon do seem to be...”

(Starveling in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“What is there in thee, Moon! That thou should’st move my Heart so potently?” (John Keats)

Charlotte: “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” (Bette Davis in Now Voyager)

“Here, men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.” (Neil Armstrong)

In awe, I watched the waxing moon ride across the zenith of the heavens like an ambered chariot towards the ebony void of infinite space wherein the tethered belts of Jupiter and Mars hang, for ever festooned in their orbital majesty. And as I looked at all this I thought... I must put a roof on this toilet. (Les Dawson)

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