Stargazers in for a treat as rare 'super blood moon' is expected this month

On January 20 and 21, Earth's dark shadow will be cast over the bright lunar disk as our planet moves between the sun and the moon, thereby turning it blood red.


                            Stargazers in for a treat as rare 'super blood moon' is expected this month

A trifecta of lunar events awaits stargazers in 2019, including a total lunar eclipse, a "wolf moon", and a super "blood" moon. The term "wolf" is a nickname for a full moon that appears in the middle of winter, the New York Post reports.

According to National Geographic, the rare sight will be viewed by millions of people across North and South America, aside from portions of Western Europe and Africa, overnight on January 20 into the following day. That said, the moon will supposedly give off a distinctive, bright-reddish glow for a few hours. “A total lunar eclipse can happen only when the sun, Earth, and moon are perfectly lined up — anything less than perfection creates a partial lunar eclipse or no eclipse at all,” according to Space.com.

The rare sight will be viewed by millions of people across North and South America, aside from portions of Western Europe and Africa, overnight on January 20 into the following day. (iStock)
The rare sight will be viewed by millions of people across North and South America, aside from portions of Western Europe and Africa, overnight on January 20 into the following day. (iStock)

This is a rare occurrence, which, according to NASA, will not take place again until May 2021. The phenomenon is witnessed in a specific arrangement when the Earth experiences a total lunar eclipse and the entire moon enters the planet's shadow. According to Space.com, the 2019 total lunar eclipse will kick off around 11:41 p.m. ET January 20 and peak around 12:16 a.m. ET January 21, lasting approximately 1 hour and 2 minutes.

EarthSky reported that the longest total lunar eclipse in the last century was on July 16, 2000, when it lasted for 1 hour and 46.4 minutes, just seconds away from the longest possible lunar eclipse, which cannot exceed 1 hour and 47 minutes. Having said that, the US was not able to witness the last total lunar eclipse that took place on July 27.

The phenomenon is witnessed in a specific arrangement when the Earth experiences a total lunar eclipse and the entire moon enters the planet's shadow. (iStock)
The phenomenon is witnessed in a specific arrangement when the Earth experiences a total lunar eclipse and the entire moon enters the planet's shadow. (iStock)

Going further, NASA describes a supermoon as a new or full moon that appears larger than usual as it is the closest it gets to Earth. The point in the moon's orbit closest to Earth is known as "perigee" and is located about 225,500 miles from the pale blue dot.

In a conversation with Fox News, Dr. Noah Petro, a research scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said that when compared to the average moon seen in the night sky, supermoons typically appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. Notwithstanding, it is difficult to make out the difference when viewed with the naked eye. Speaking to Space.com in 2016, Sky & Telescope magazine senior editor Alan MacRobert said, “That’s not enough to notice unless you’re a very careful moon-watcher."

On the other hand, the rusty brownish-red color donned by the moon during a total lunar eclipse inspired the term "blood moon."

The January full moon was nicknamed the 'wolf moon' by Native American tribes after wolves that howled outside as they hunted for food in mid-winter. (iStock)
The January full moon was nicknamed the 'wolf moon' by Native American tribes after wolves that howled outside as they hunted for food in mid-winter. (iStock)

“That’s because some of the sunlight going through Earth’s atmosphere is bent around the edge of our planet and falls onto the moon’s surface. Earth’s air also scatters more shorter-wavelength light (in colors such as green or blue); what’s left is the longer-wavelength, redder end of the spectrum,” Space.com states on its website.

That said, it was the Native Americans who coined the term "wolf moon" for the January full moon, named after wolves that that howled outside as they hunted for food in mid-winter. Some also refer to the phenomenon as the "old moon." Explaining the tradition in a post online, the Old Farmer's Almanac wrote, “This is an age-old practice, nothing new. Ancient peoples commonly tracked the seasons by following the lunar calendar (versus today’s solar calendar)."