a priest's musings on the journey

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blue Moons and Buddha

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(Some Billie Holiday- Blue Moon)

No, it's not really blue :), but this second full moon in the month is an astronomical oddity, occurring about every 33 months. When you hear someone say "Once in a Blue Moon..." you know what they mean: Rare. Seldom. Maybe even absurd. After all, when was the last time you saw the moon turn blue?

In 1883, an Indonesian volcano named Krakatoa exploded. Scientists liken the blast to a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. 600 km away, people heard the noise as loud as a cannon shot. Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere. And the moon turned blue.

Blue moons persisted for years after the eruption. People also saw lavender suns and, for the first time, noctilucent clouds. The ash caused "such vivid red sunsets that fire engines were called out in New York, Poughkeepsie, and New Haven to quench the apparent conflagration," according to volcanologist Scott Rowland at the University of Hawaii.

Other less potent volcanos have turned the moon blue, too. People saw blue moons in 1983, for instance, after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of blue moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

The key to a blue moon is having in the air lots of particles slightly wider than the wavelength of red light (0.7 micron)--and no other sizes present. This is rare, but volcanoes sometimes spit out such clouds, as do forest fires:

"On September 23, 1950, several muskeg fires that had been quietly smoldering for several years in Alberta suddenly blew up into major--and very smoky--fires," writes physics professor Sue Ann Bowling of the University of Alaska. "Winds carried the smoke eastward and southward with unusual speed, and the conditions of the fire produced large quantities of oily droplets of just the right size (about 1 micron in diameter) to scatter red and yellow light. Wherever the smoke cleared enough so that the sun was visible, it was lavender or blue. Ontario and much of the east coast of the U.S. were affected by the following day, but the smoke kept going. Two days later, observers in England reported an indigo sun in smoke-dimmed skies, followed by an equally blue moon that evening."

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Music for Vesak

My Episco-buddhist and Ortho-Buddhist buddies tell me that this blue moon ushers in the holiest day for (some) Buddhists, who celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. This this month has a blue moon, some celebrated the holy day, called Vesak, during the first full moon. Thailand, Singapore, and many American Buddhists celebrate it today. The day is celebrated with rituals at the temple and by gift giving, especially to children and the less fortunate.

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 9:36 PM


You learn something every day!
Blogger John the organist, at 4:44 AM  
Buddhapalians here salute you! (Or rather, bow with palms together.) Thank you.
Blogger Jane R, at 1:39 PM  

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