Myths, months, and the moon
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The Islamic calendar is also based on the moon, and begins counting years from Prophet Muhammad's flight to Medina. We are in the year 1423 by this calendar. Each month begins when the moon's crescent can first be seen by the human eye after a new moon. (A "new" moon really means "no moon," when the moon is between the Earth and the Sun in its orbit.) Cloudy weather may make it difficult to see the moon, so the beginning of the month can't be reliably predicted in advance.Skip to next paragraph
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Some Muslims using the Islamic calendar base the beginning of the month on their view of the moon in their particular area. Others rely on the view of authorities in a different Muslim area. So the Islamic month may begin at different times in different places.
The calendar used in the Western world was worked out by Pope Gregory XIII in the 1580s. It counts the years based on a date believed to be that of the birth of Jesus Christ. This calendar divides the year into 12 months rather than establishing the months by lunar cycles, although there is generally one full cycle in each month.
The problem with lunar calendars is that the moon goes through its phases in about 29-1/2 days, which results in about 12-1/3 lunar months in a solar year. Most calendars have to make adjustments to keep their calendars synchronized with a solar year.
The Gregorian calendar, our modern calendar, mostly ignores the moon's phases. But we still need to add a leap year every four years, in which an extra day is added in February to keep us on track with the solar year.
The Chinese lunar calendar adds an extra month once in a blue moon, literally. A "blue moon" occurs when there are 13 full moons a year. This happens about once every three solar years. Since Chinese months begin with new moons, the calendar adds a month at the beginning of the year whenever there are 13 new moons. The Jewish calendar adds a second month of Adar when needed.
The Islamic year makes no adjustments. It is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year. That's why Islamic observances like Ramadan occur earlier in relation to each new Gregorian year.
Here are some of the names people have used for the full moons throughout the year:
September: Harvest Moon, Leaf Fall Moon
October: Hunter's Moon, Falling River Moon
November: Beaver Moon, Every Buck Loses His Horns Moon
December: Cold Moon, Big Freezing Moon
January: Wolf Moon, Winter Moon
February: Trapper's Moon, Snow Moon
March:Maple Sugar Moon, Big Clouds Moon
April: Planter's Moon, Little Frogs Croak Moon
May: Budding Moon, Corn Planting Moon
June: Strawberry Moon, Salmon Fishing Time Moon
July: Killer Whale Moon, Buck Moon
August: Sturgeon Moon, Collect Food for the Winter Moon
While the phases of the moon might have seemed mysterious long ago, an eclipse was downright scary. During a lunar eclipse, Earth comes between the sun and the moon so that Earth's shadow falls across the moon and darkens it. Ignorant people were frightened to see the moon slowly disappear. Some believed a monster was eating the moon or demons were destroying it.
As people learned the true nature of eclipses, they also learned how to predict them. Christopher Columbus was able to put this ability to good use during his last voyage to the New World.