Next Sunday night, sky conditions permitting, we will be in for a real astronomical treat.
A total lunar eclipse lasting 62 minutes will be visible on the night of Jan. 20-21 across North and South America, including throughout the United States and parts of western Europe and Africa.
The Wolf Moon — a full moon in January — will be a “super blood moon” that reveals a vivid reddish tint for a couple of hours, centered around midnight.
The coppery coloration or cast is due to the bending of some sunlight (refraction) around the fringes of Earth, causing shorter-wavelength light to be scattered by the atmosphere while leaving us with longer-wavelength red-orange-yellow beams.
A total lunar eclipse requires the sun, earth and moon to fall to be perfectly aligned, placing the entire moon in Earth’s dark interior shadow (umbra), an event that we will not witness again until May 2021, according to NASA.
On Jan. 31, 2018, we were captivated by a rare “super blue blood moon” seen from the U.S. for the first time since 1866.
A blue moon is the second full moon of a month. We see a blue moon every few years, but had two in 2018, separated by two months.
The 2019 total lunar eclipse will begin at 11:41 p.m. ET on Jan. 20 and peak at about 12:16 a.m. ET on the 21st. (The longest eclipse in history lasted 1 hour and 46.4 minutes on July 16, 2000).
We could not see the July 27, 2018, eclipse in the United States.
Making the upcoming astronomical show special is that we will also have a supermoon, which occurs when a full or new moon is closest to Earth in its orbit (perigee), which can make it appear about 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than a typical moon nightly, although the difference is not all that evident.
The moon will come within 225,558 miles of Earth at perigee.
The Wolf Moon moniker dates back to a time when Native American tribes went hunting at night and had to fend off wolves in the middle of winter. The various names for the full moon were a way to keep track of the seasons.