by Melissa Martin, Education and Program Coordinator
If the clouds stay away on Sunday January 20th you may be able to view a unique natural phenomenon in the nighttime sky. Known fully as a Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Eclipse, the moon is scheduled to put on quite a show. As the full moon rises over the horizon and enters the nighttime sky it will appear slightly larger than a normal full moon. This occurs as a result of the moon being at its closest point to Earth during its monthly orbit. During this time the moon is referred to as a “super moon.”
While full moons occur monthly and super moons may occur several times a year, a total lunar eclipse visible from the United States is far less frequent. Following Sunday, the next total lunar eclipse that will be visible from the United States will occur in May of 2021.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon travels into the shadow of the Earth created by the sun. Because the moon does not produce its own light like the sun does it cannot illuminate the shadow to maintain its normal appearance and will appear dark red or orange. The moon will be completely covered by Earth’s shadow for roughly an hour.
A total lunar eclipse will go through seven different phases with the most visible stages beginning around 9:36 p.m. Eastern Time when the Earth’s shadow will begin to cover the moon. Around 11:41 p.m. Eastern Time the moon will be completely covered by the Earth’s shadow with the maximum eclipse occurring at 12:12 a.m. Monday morning. The total eclipse will end around 12:43 a.m. Monday morning when the moon begins moving out of the Earth’s Shadow.
During the total eclipse when the moon is completely covered by the Earth’s shadow it will take on an almost eerie red or orange tint. This is the time period when the moon will earn the nickname “blood moon.” This popular phrase for when the moon appears to be colored during an eclipse is not officially used in astronomy, but as the popularity of solar and lunar eclipses grows so does the common language used to describe them.
Another common popular moon description is the naming of the monthly full moons. These names are rooted in Native American and early Colonial times and often describe seasonal conditions for that month. The January full moon has come to be known as the Full Wolf Moon. In the dead of winter when food is scarce and survival is hard wolves were often heard howling in hunger outside of villages.
No glasses or fancy equipment is needed to view this lunar eclipse as it can be clearly and safely seen with the naked eye. Binoculars or a small telescope may enhance the viewer’s experience, though. Any unobstructed view of the nighttime sky will be good for viewing this interesting lunar eclipse. Here’s hoping the clouds stay away!
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