If you live in the Western United States, you don’t want to miss the incredibly rare lunar event happening later this month. (If you don’t, now is the time to book your plane ticket.) The last time a “super blue blood moon” graced the skies was March 31, 1866. The next one will occur on January 31, 2018.
So, what exactly is this ominous-sounding “super blue blood moon”? It’s actually a combination of three different celestial phenomena: a supermoon, a blue moon, and a blood moon.
A supermoon is a full moon that occurs during its perigee, i.e. the point in its orbit when it is at its closest to the Earth. The result is a moon that appears especially large and bright. On average, a supermoon is about 14 percent more dazzling than usual.
This will be the second supermoon of the month and the third since December 3, 2017. The first (nicknamed the "Wolf Moon") was visible on January 1 or January 2, depending on whether you were in the Eastern or Western Hemisphere. Because it is the second full Moon of the month, it is also a blue moon. These only happen once every 2.7 years – hence the expression, "once in a blue moon".
To complete the trifecta, a total lunar eclipse will take place, turning the "super blue moon" into a "super blue blood moon". During the eclipse, the Earth will sit between the Moon and Sun, blocking all sunlight to the former and casting it in an eery shade of coppery red.
According to NASA, the “super blue blood moon” can be seen before sunrise on January 31 if you are staying in North America, Alaska, or Hawaii and during moonrise if you are in the Middle East, Asia, eastern Russia, Australia, or New Zealand.
“Weather permitting, the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii will have a spectacular view of totality from start to finish,” said Gordon Johnston, program executive and lunar blogger at NASA's Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.
“Unfortunately, eclipse viewing will be more challenging in the Eastern time zone. The eclipse begins at 5.51am ET, as the Moon is about to set in the western sky, and the sky is getting lighter in the east.”
If you live on the East Coast, he recommends watching the start of the eclipse from a high place at around 6.45am EST.
“Make sure you have a clear line of sight to the horizon in the west-northwest, opposite from where the Sun will rise,” he added.
But the very best places to see it, reports Space.com, will be central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia.