Residents in the Florida Panhandle will join the rest of the United States early Wednesday morning, in experiencing a lunar “trifecta” – the first such phenomenon since 1866.
A “Super Blue Blood Moon" is basically a long and complicated way of saying there are three things happening at one time with the moon, according to Lauren Rogers -- an astronomer at Pensacola State College.
“The ‘Super Moon’ happens pretty frequently,” says Rogers. “’Super Moon’ just means that the moon is going to appear a little bit bigger and brighter in our sky (about 14 percent larger). The reason for that is the orbit of the moon around the Earth is not a perfect circle.”
The Super Blue Moon will pass through Earth’s shadow giving viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. And while the Moon is there, it will take on a reddish tint, known as a “blood moon.”
“Earth is casting a shadow out into outer space; and when the moon passes into that shadow it gets darkened,” Rogers says. “But then, when it’s perfectly eclipsed, the way that the light is bending through Earth’s atmosphere causes this kind of reddish hue to appear on the moon.”
And, says Rogers, it’s also the second full moon in January, making it a “blue moon.”
“The definition of ‘blue moon’ has actually changed over the years,” said Rogers. “It used to mean the third full moon in a season that has four; but over the years it’s changed and usually, when people say a ‘blue moon,’ they’re referring to a second full moon in the month.”
The first full moon in January was late New Year’s evening into the next morning.
In the Central time zone viewing will be better, since the action begins when the Moon is higher in the western sky. At 4:51 a.m. Central the penumbra -- or lighter part of Earth’s shadow – will touch the Moon. But Rogers warns that local viewers could come up a bit short.
“We’re not going to see too much because, even if the sun may not be fully up yet, we’re going to see sunlight starting to come up from the east, as this is setting in the west,” said Rogers. “You should be able to see maybe some slight reddening of the moon, and definitely the shadow over the moon because it should be full.”
The best viewing area will be the west coast of the U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. If you miss the lunar eclipse, then mark your calendars for January 21, 2019. And if you miss that, PSC’s Lauren Rogers says don’t sweat it.
“Lunar eclipses are fairly frequent, much more than the solar eclipse that happened back in August,” said Rogers. “For a solar eclipse, you have to be in a pretty narrow band of where that shadow is going to fall. But for the lunar eclipses, you obviously have to be on the night side of the Earth when it’s happening.”
The lunar eclipse next January will be visible throughout all of the U.S. and will be a supermoon – but it will not be a blue moon. A live feed of Wednesday morning’s “Super Blue Blood Moon” can be found at www.nasa.gov.