A lunar eclipse coming January 31 will give astronomy buffs around the United States a chance to see one of the most gorgeous displays in the night sky. This event will also coincide with a blue moon and a super moon.
Amateur astronomers in the western U.S., particularly in the Pacific Northwest, will be treated to the most dazzling display. Here, our planetary companion will move completely within the shadow of the Earth, turning bright red. Those observers in the northeast will see the smallest change from the norm, with only a small corner of the Moon falling into shadow.
“Eclipses can occur when the Sun, the Moon and Earth align. Lunar eclipses can only happen during the full moon phase, when the Moon and the Sun are on opposite sides of Earth. At that point, the Moon could move into the shadow cast by Earth, resulting in a lunar eclipse. However, most of the time, the Moon’s slightly tilted orbit brings it above or below the shadow of Earth,” Lyle Tavernier of Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained.
As the Moon revolves around the Earth, the distance between the two bodies varies. The point of closest approach to Earth is known as perigee, during which time, the Moon appears roughly 14 percent brighter than normal. This effect is commonly known as a “supermoon.” But, this is just one of the three characteristics that will make this event so special.
“It’s the second full moon of the month, commonly known as a ‘blue moon.’ The super blue moon will pass through Earth’s shadow to give viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. While the Moon is in the Earth’s shadow it will take on a reddish tint, known as a ‘blood moon,’” NASA officials described in text accompanying a YouTube video on the event.
Although the Moon revolves around the Earth every four weeks, we do not see an eclipse each month, since the orbital plane of our natural satellite is not in line with the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. However, roughly every six months, the three bodies do line up, creating an “eclipse season,” lasting 34 days. When the Moon passes behind the Earth during these times, people are treated to a lunar eclipse.
No special equipment is needed to see this event, although a pair of binoculars can make viewing the eclipse even more enjoyable.
Times for the eclipse, as well as the duration, vary around the country. In Seattle, Washington, the shadow of the Earth will start to cover the Moon at 3:49am, with the total eclipse beginning at 4:51. The total eclipse will last until 6:07am, and will be over by 7:10, 27 minutes before sunrise. Viewers in Tucson, Arizona will see the eclipse begin at 4:48am, with totality starting at 5:51. The total eclipse will be over by 7:07, just before sunrise. In Boston, skywatchers will see the partial eclipse begin at 6:48, just ten minutes before the Moon sets.
This will be the only lunar eclipse visible from North America during 2018, so get outside and take a look!