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Is the moon blue or Purple?

The color of the moon is a fascinating topic that has intrigued humans since the beginning of time. In this article, we will explore the science behind the moon’s color and discuss whether it appears blue or purple to the naked eye.

The Moon’s Surface

The moon is a large natural satellite that orbits the planet Earth. It is the fifth largest moon in our solar system. The moon’s diameter is about 2,160 miles, making it much smaller than Earth. The moon’s surface is covered with craters, valleys, mountains, and rocky plains formed by ancient volcanic activity and meteorite impacts. This landscape is often referred to as the lunar highlands and lunar maria.

The uppermost layer of the moon’s surface is composed of fine dusty soil made from pulverized rock and microscopic particles of glass. This powdery soil is called lunar regolith. The color of the regolith varies depending on its composition, but it generally appears gray or light brown to the human eye from a distance.

Why the Moon Appears White

When we view the moon from Earth, it generally looks white or gray in color. The regolith on the surface reflects approximately 12% of the sunlight that hits it. This means that the lunar surface isn’t very reflective overall. However, the moon still appears white or bright because our eyes perceive the moon against the darkness of space.

Our atmosphere also plays a role in the moon’s white appearance. As sunlight passes through our atmosphere before illuminating the moon, the shorter bluer wavelengths are scattered away. This leaves the longer red and yellow wavelengths to travel through the atmosphere and reflect off the moon’s surface back to our eyes. This effect gives the moon a yellow or white hue.

Can the Moon Appear Blue or Purple?

While the moon generally appears white, it can take on different coloring during certain conditions:

  • Blue moon: During rare occasions when the moon is at a far point in its orbit around Earth, it can take on a bluish hue. This is caused by the same effect that makes our sky appear blue – the scattering of shorter blue wavelengths of light by the atmosphere.
  • Moon illusion: When the moon is low on the horizon, it can appear orange or red. This optical illusion causes the moon to look larger and take on the warmer hues of sunset.
  • Lunar eclipses: During a total lunar eclipse, the moon takes on a reddish or brown color as it passes through the Earth’s shadow. This coloring is due to the bending of red sunlight refracting through our atmosphere to reach the moon’s surface.
  • Volcanic eruptions: Particles and gases ejected by large volcanic eruptions can temporarily change the color of the moon if they reach high enough into the atmosphere. The moon may appear purple, blue, or green depending on the particles and how they scatter light.

Scientific Explanations for Blue and Purple Hues

While less common than a white appearance, there are a few scientific reasons why the moon can sometimes take on a blue or violet hue:

Rayleigh Scattering

The same phenomenon that makes the sky blue causes moonlight to appear blue as well. As light passes through the atmosphere, shorter wavelengths like blue and violet scatter more easily than longer wavelengths. When the moon is at its farthest point, the extra atmosphere for moonlight to travel through filters out more red light, leading to a blue colored moon.

Particles in the Atmosphere

After volcanic eruptions or meteorite impacts, particles and gases can be ejected high into the upper atmosphere. These aerosols are generally smaller than the wavelengths of visible light, which causes Mie scattering. This tends to scatter violet and blue wavelengths most strongly, leading to temporary moon color changes.

Lunar Composition

While less significant than the atmosphere’s role, the lunar surface does absorb some wavelengths of light differently than others. For example, titanium-rich areas appear darker because they absorb redder wavelengths. So when observing the moon through a telescope, you may notice subtle color variations based on composition.

Observing the Moon’s Color

The best way to observe and study the moon’s color is through a high-powered telescope. Looking at the moon with the naked eye, it will almost always appear white or gray. But telescopes reveal more subtle or temporary color changes on the lunar surface.

Here are some tips for observing the moon’s color through a telescope:

  • Use color filters to accentuate blues and purples.
  • Photograph the moon through the telescope and analyze the image colors.
  • Observe the moon when it is low on the horizon to look for a yellow, orange, or red hue.
  • Compare the color of lunar maria (dark areas) to the lunar highlands.
  • Look for blue hues along the moon’s terminator (the line between night and day).

Historic Reports of a Blue Moon

Throughout history, there have been reports of the moon appearing blue, violet, or purple for a night:

Date Reported Color Possible Cause
March 31, 1835 Blue Volcanic eruption or forest fire particles
February 14, 1927 Bluish-green Eruption of Mount Etna
December 23, 1950 Violet Sunset lighting effect
March 13, 1954 Blue-green Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

While these reports are anecdotal, they illustrate that under the right conditions the moon can take on more colorful hues. The causes are usually attributed to volcanic activity, fires, or optical illusions.

Could the Moon Be Purple?

While less common than blue, there are a few scenarios where the moon could temporarily appear purple or violet:

  • After very large volcanic eruptions, enough ash and particulates might reach the upper atmosphere and give the moon a purple hue due to Mie scattering.
  • Unusual atmospheric conditions could cause the moon to take on a purplish appearance. But sustained violet or purple color that lasts more than a night is unlikely.
  • Using a very strong telescope with certain filters or settings could make subtle color variances look more purple.

However, the moon appearing clearly purple or violet to the naked eye is very uncommon. There are no known scientific conditions that could make the moon look distinctly and vividly purple for long periods of time from Earth. At most, temporary purplish hues may be observed under extremely rare atmospheric circumstances.


In summary, while the moon generally appears white or gray, it can take on different colors like blue, orange, or red under special conditions. These unusual moon colors are caused by our atmosphere, lunar composition, volcanic activity, and optical illusions.

Blue moons occur thanks to Rayleigh scattering, which filters out red wavelengths of light. Particles in the sky from volcanoes or fires can also scatter blue and violet light. While less common, purple moons may be possible after huge volcanic eruptions. However, a vivid purple moon is not thought to occur for prolonged periods.

The moon’s color continues to fascinate astronomers and casual observers alike. With careful observation through telescopes and photographic equipment, we can continue learning about the different factors that influence the varying colors of our luminous lunar companion.