The early morning night skies on January 21, 2019, will hold a rare and unusual event as a total lunar eclipse is set to occur when the Moon is at its closest proximity to Earth – a phenomenon known as a “Super Blood Moon”, which will not visible again until 2036.
Though the event is rare, it is not a sign of “impending doom” as some publications have claimed. Of the 87 total lunar eclipses that will occur during this century, Newsweek reports that just 28 will coincide with the perigee of supermoons, or the point when the Moon is closest to Earth.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Sun, and Moon are in syzygy alignment, the Greek word for being paired together, when the Earth comes between the Sun and Moon, covering the Moon in its shadow. The varying stages of Earth’s three shadows, known as the umbra (the darker, central part), the penumbra (the outer part), and the antumbra (the partly shaded area beyond the umbra), dictates what sort of eclipse will occur – in this case, the umbra. When this happens, the Moon can turn a coppery red – hence the nickname Blood Moon – as light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere is refracted back towards the Moon. Its color during totality depends on dust found in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time, which blocks out higher frequency blue waves and allows longer red waves to come through, and can range from a deep, dark red to lighter hues of orange and yellow. NASA captured a time-lapse of a similar Super Blue Blood Moon event in January 2018 over the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
The Royal Museums Greenwich says that the full eclipse will be visible over most of North America, South America, and parts of west and north Europe while the rest of Europe and Africa can tune in just in time to catch the end of it. The Moon will begin to enter the Earth’s shadow just after 2:30am GMT, with the maximum eclipse taking place until 5:15am. In total, the entire eclipse will last for more than five hours, ending at 7:48am.
Eclipse calculations are accurate within a few seconds, so be sure to time your viewing party precisely. If you miss it, you’ll have another chance to view a less dramatic partial lunar eclipse coming up in July.