We’ve been blessed with a few celestial wonders these last few months. (A couple of incredible supermoons here and there, a Geminid Meteor Shower, just to name a few.) But this week, the moon is going to be extra epic, because it’s going to be a “Super Blue Blood Moon.” And no, that is not the title of a new punk rock album.
What that means is that, on Wednesday, there will be a blood moon, a total lunar eclipse, a blue moon and a supermoon, all at the same time. Any one of those on their own is a reason to break out your camera’s telephoto lens, but the fact that they are all happening at once makes this an event you really don’t want to miss. The last time all of these events occurred simultaneously in the Western hemisphere was 1866. And for more news on the world around us, Check Out These Insane Photos of the Paris Flood.
It’s going to be huge
The moon is typically 238,000 miles away, but because of the nature of its drunken orbit around the Earth, it sometimes gets a little closer, and, very rarely, almost stumbles right into us. The supermoon occurs when the moon is at its perigee, which is the point in its orbit at which it is closest to Earth, when it can appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual.
It’s going to be a super rare event
You’ve probably heard the expression “once in a blue moon,” which indicates that a blue moon is a very infrequent occurrence. In fact, blue moons are not all that rare, but it depends on which definition you’re using.
You see, a “blue moon” can simply refer to the second full moon within a single calendar month (which is the kind of blue moon we’ll see on Wednesday). However, that accepted definition is actually the result of a widespread misinterpretation. The original meaning of the “blue moon” was the third full moon in a season that has four full moons, which was a phenomenon that only happened every 2 and a half years or so. Even then, the term didn’t imply that the moon actually appeared blue in color. It was just a saying, like “the moon is made of green cheese,” to indicate that something out of the ordinary was happening.
That being said, in 1883, the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia gave the moon a blue/green tint due to smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere. The event is widely considered to have popularized the phrase “blue moon.”
It’s going to be a lunar eclipse
This one you’re probably pretty familiar with already. It happens when the moon goes behind the earth and falls into its shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, you don’t need any special eyewear to watch a lunar eclipse. Whereas a solar eclipse lasts only a few minutes, a lunar eclipse can go on for hours. And it can be seen from just about anywhere in the world!
It’s going to look super beautiful
Despite what the name seems to imply, a lunar eclipse doesn’t make the moon disappear. Instead, it gives the moon a reddish-brown hue, as the Earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight and indirectly lights up the moon’s surface. This is why a lunar eclipse is also sometimes called a Blood Moon.
You won’t be at work when it happens
The exact times vary depending on which part of the country you’re in, but, generally, Americans will need to wake up in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, January 31, to see it in full. The eclipse begins earlier on the West Coast then on the East, and it lasts longer. In California, the penumbral eclipse will start at 2:51 am PST, hit its stride at 4:51 a.m, and last more or less until 7:11 a.m. New Yorkers, however, will only get 16 minutes to fully appreciate its magic, as the moon won’t enter its full phase until around 6:48 a.m EST, before setting at 6:64 am.
You’ll be able to photograph it for posterity
If you have a digital, single-lens reflex camera, then it’s best to use focal lengths of 400mm, 500mm, and beyond in order to make the moon the main attraction. It’s also a good idea to photograph it next to some sort of landmark to highlight its overwhelming size; if you snap a pic of it all by itself it’ll most likely just look like a bright ceiling light. If all you’ve got is an iPhone, you can do some magic by tapping on the moon symbol on the screen and then adjusting the exposure slider to get the right light.
Here’s how to see it
In order to see the super blue blood moon, you need to be on the night side of the Earth, which Asia, Australia, the Pacific and North America are. However, only California, western Canada, Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and eastern Asia will be able to see it in totality, provided the skies are clear.
If you’re in any of those parts of the world, it’s best to go to an area with a flat horizon, preferably away from city lights. If you didn’t luck out this time (or, alternatively, don’t want to get up that early), NASA will be doing a livestream starting at 5:30 a.m. EST, which you can watch after you wake up.
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