Did You Know the Moon Can Appear in Over 40 Different Colors?

Moon phases in different colors

The moon’s natural color can be described as off-white or brown-gray. It has been the same color for billions of years, but it doesn’t always appear the same to us. Sometimes, it looks orange, yellow, red, or even blue.

Photographer Marcella Giulia Pace spent ten years capturing the moon at different times and phases. When looking at her many pictures of the full moon, she discovered that it could appear in at least 48 different colors. She combined her photos of all the different colored moons into one image to create a beautiful and colorful spiral of moons. The colors included several shades of gray, brown, red, yellow, orange, purple, and blue.

However, just because the moon can appear in so many colors doesn’t mean it actually changes color. The dozens of hues are caused by many different factors, including the time of day, the moon’s position, and the particles surrounding the moon. Let’s take a look at why some of the unusual moon colors occur.

White

White full moon up close

To our eyes, white is the standard color for the moon. Up close, the moon’s surface is gray, but from Earth, it looks like a glowing white orb when it’s high in the sky. That color is caused by the sun reflecting light off the moon, giving it the illusion that the moon is glowing a bright white color.

The moon doesn’t produce its own light. However, it looks different than the sun’s light because only some of the light is reflected, giving it a uniquely-colored glow as opposed to the sun shining directly on us. When other factors come into play, that’s when the moon’s color and appearance may shift.

Yellow

Big yellow moon in the sky

Before the moon becomes high in the sky, it may have a yellow tint. That’s because when it’s closer to the horizon, the light takes longer to travel through the atmosphere. When the moon is really low, blue light scatters right away, leaving mostly red and some yellow light. As the moon gets higher, more yellow light makes it to our eyes, which is why the moon might look yellow as it rises.

Once the moon is at its highest point in the sky, the yellow tint should disappear, leaving a traditional white/gray coloring. However, dust and pollution in the air could give the white moon a hint of yellow.

Orange

Orange moon over the water

As the moon rises, it may look orange before it reaches its highest point. This is because its position filters out certain wavelengths, such as the short blue waves that scatter before they reach us. Instead, we’re left with only longer wavelengths like yellow, orange, and red, which is why the moon might seem orange to us without being bright yellow or red.

Certain particles in the air, such as smoke and dust after a wildfire, may also give the moon an orange hue. If that’s the case, the sky surrounding the moon will likely also be dark and orange.

Red

Blood red moon close up

A red moon, also known as a “blood moon,” occurs during a lunar eclipse, which is when the Earth sits perfectly between the moon and the sun, causing the moon to sit in Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses typically occur a few times per year, but not in the same part of the planet every time.

During a lunar eclipse, the moon looks red because barely any light travels from the sun to the moon. Any light that reaches the moon has to travel through the Earth’s atmosphere first, causing only colors of longer wavelengths to make it through. Since red light has the longest wavelengths, the moon looks red to us.

On a normal day, when the moon is first rising, it may look red since only long wavelengths can make it through the atmosphere. In those instances, the moon will only be red briefly until it rises further. Dust and pollution can deepen the red hue.

Brown

Light brown or dark orange moon

In scenarios where the moon looks orange or red, it may also have a hint of brown. Brown is technically a shade of orange, so a brown moon indicates that orange and red wavelengths are the only ones reaching us, but a darker environment may make the moon look brown rather than bright orange.

Other environmental factors, such as excessive dust in the air, could also make an orange moon appear more brown.

Pink

Pink moon behind the trees

The moon will never be hot pink, but it can sometimes have a slight pink coloring. Like red moons, pink moons usually appear when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, meaning only the longest color wavelengths reach it. However, since it isn’t a lunar eclipse, the red isn’t as bold, causing the moon to look pink/light red. It’s a very subtle color change, but it’s still beautiful and only happens about once a year.

After the solar eclipse in April, the full moon that followed was named a “Pink Moon” to represent the beautiful blooming flowers of that time of year, such as phlox or moss pink. However, like other pink moons, it only had a slight pink tint.

Purple

Light purple moon in dark sky

When the moon sits low in the sky, such as when it’s first appearing for the night, it may look purple. When the moon is low, sunlight has to travel through more particles than usual to reach us. The scattered blue light mixed with the red light makes the moon look purple.

This usually only occurs for a few minutes, so you need to look for it to catch it in time. As the moon rises higher into the sky, it changes to other colors like red, orange, and yellow until it finally has its signature white/gray color.

The irregular gas layers of the Earth’s atmosphere may also cause us to perceive the moon as purple. In those cases, the moon may look purely purple, while sunrises and sunsets only make it look slightly purple.

Blue

Bright blue moon up close

“Once in a blue moon” is a popular saying for a reason. Blue moons are rare, occurring about once every 33 months. They typically happen when the atmosphere is full of dust and smoke, such as after a volcanic eruption. When the moonlight shines through the dense dust particles, the moon looks blue to us.

One of the most popular blue moons occurred in 1883 after the deadly eruption of Krakatoa (also known as Krakatau) in Indonesia. The moon was bright blue for over a year after the eruption because so much dust remained in the atmosphere.

Blue is so uncommon because blue light has the shortest wavelengths, causing it to scatter before it reaches us. It takes a very specific environment for the moon to appear blue without longer light wavelengths getting in the way.

Black

Black side of the moon

During a new moon, the moon appears black. A new moon is the first lunar phase when the moon is between the Earth and the sun. It’s like the opposite of a full moon. The moon looks black because the side of the moon that’s facing the Earth isn’t illuminated. The reason a solar eclipse doesn’t occur every new moon is that the moon has a tilted orbit that’s not on the same plane as the sun and Earth. Although, during a solar eclipse, the moon also looks pitch black.

Even though the moon is always black during new moons, “Black Moon” is the unofficial term for a new moon under certain circumstances. It occurs if there’s a second new moon in one month or if it’s the third new moon of a season with four new moons.

Does the Moon Ever Turn Green?

You might notice that green is the only color of the rainbow that is not mentioned above. That’s because the moon cannot turn green. Social media posts about a green moon are only hoaxes with photoshopped images made to fuel urban legends.

While the moon could have a slightly green tint when it’s blue or yellow, there has never been a purely green moon. The light wavelengths and nearby particles have never aligned in a way that makes the moon look green. Yet, nearly every other color seems plausible.

The Sun Appears in Different Colors Too

Red sun with airplane silhouette

The sun’s colors may not change as drastically as the moon’s, but they can still appear vastly different depending on the time of day and the particles around it.

The sun most commonly appears as yellow or white, making it so bright that you can’t look at it without hurting your eyes. However, as the sun rises and sets, it looks orange or red when it’s closer to the horizon. Sometimes, the sun may even have a brown, pink, or purple tint to it.

In many photographs of sunsets and sunrises, the sun also looks like it has horizontal stripes going across it. Those lines are typically caused by clouds blocking some of the sun’s rays since it’s so low in the sky.

Many people consider sunrises and sunsets symbolic because of their beauty. They are spectacular natural phenomena that should be enjoyed and appreciated.