Less than 6 months ago, the entire U.S. was privy to its first solar eclipse in nearly 100 years, and now it will have the pleasure of witnessing another celestial phenomenon that hasn’t occurred for 150 years: the super blue blood moon eclipse of 2018.
What is a Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse?
By themselves, each of the super, blue, blood moon, eclipse descriptors are phenomena that we’ve seen before and see at a relatively regular basis, but all of them at once? This should be interesting.
So, what is it going to look like?
Well, not all of these phenomena are related to appearance, like the blue moon. A blue moon simply means that we get two full moons in a month. This phenomenon happens roughly once every 2½ years, which is not as rare as the “once in a blue moon” adage might imply. For those on the east coast of the U.S., there will be two blue moons this year, in January and March, making the occurrence even less rare.
Although all of these lunar phenomena are being lumped into one long title, some of the adjectives are slightly redundant. The blood moon and a lunar eclipse are essentially the same phenomenon, but ways of describing two different things happening simultaneously.
During a lunar eclipse, the Earth becomes situated so as to block the light from the Sun that is normally reflected by the moon. This creates a penumbra and an umbra, two parts of the Earth’s shadow that make the moon look darker as it passes by in its orbit. But unlike a solar eclipse, during a lunar eclipse the moon doesn’t go completely dark because it still receives sunlight reflected off the Earth.
During this eclipse, a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering occurs making the moon look red from light scattering off molecules of the air. Red wavelengths are less affected in this process than other wavelengths, which is the reason the moon appears to be blood red. This is the same function that creates those dramatic red sunsets and sunrises.
The super moon part refers to the moon when it is in its closest point in orbit around the Earth, also known as its perigee. During this event, the closer proximity to the Earth can make the moon appear to be 14 percent larger and up to 30 percent brighter. Super moons typically occur once every 414 days, though the orientation of the moon’s orbit changes as the Earth orbits the sun, making the phenomenon sometimes occur more often.
Super Blue Blood Moon 2018: When, Where and How to See It
Technically, the super moon will occur on Jan. 30, so it won’t be happening at the same time as the other phenomena, though it will still be pretty close, leading even NASA to overlook the slight discrepancy.
Depending on where you’re viewing, the lunar eclipse will occur either on Jan. 31 or Feb. 1. On the east coast of the U.S. the eclipse will start at 5:51 a.m. on the last day of Jan., though viewers will only be able to catch part of it before the moon sets.
Further west in the U.S., viewers will see more of the eclipse, with Denver and the Mountain Time Zone being a prime location to see all of it.
While not everybody on Earth will be able to fully witness this atypical convergence of lunar phenomena, a large portion will. The super blue blood moon eclipse will be visible throughout North America, Asia, Australia and some other spots in the Eastern hemisphere.
One NASA scientist waxed (no pun intended) poetic saying that during the eclipse, “we’re seeing all of the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets at that moment reflected from the surface of the moon.”