A total lunar eclipse is soon to delight astronomy fanatics in the Americas, as the Moon slowly crosses the Earth’s shadow and turns red this coming Sunday. These eclipses are also referred to as blood moons, but the one on the night of the 20th has some added adjectives. It is, in fact, a super blood wolf moon.
The term "super" comes from the position of its orbit. If the full Moon happens when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth (the perigee), it gets the label of "supermoon". Supermoons appear brighter and slightly larger, making them particularly impressive for unaided observations of our natural satellite. And we are certainly in luck at the moment. The next two full moons in February and March will also be supermoons. The "wolf" part comes from the traditional name of the January full Moon.
The super blood wolf moon will begin at 10.33pm EST, as the Moon moves into the shadow cast by our planet. Totality (when the Moon starts turning red) will begin just over an hour later at 11.41pm EST and will peak at 12.16am on January 21. Totality will last until 12.43am EST, before the Moon slowly moves out of the Earth’s shadow. It will be visible in North and South America as well as parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Although relatively rare, lunar and solar eclipses are fascinating phenomena that have intrigued humans for some time. The red color of the Moon has often been seen as an omen, but its true explanation is much more natural. The only light to hit the Moon when it is at the center of Earth’s shadow is the scattered sunrays passing through Earth’s atmosphere.
The reason eclipses are unusual is due to the fact that the Moon, the Earth, and the Sun don’t all orbit on the same plane. They only happen when they are in a syzygy, a perfect alignment. The combination with a supermoon is even rarer. Out of the 87 lunar eclipses in the 21st century, only 28 will be supermoons. If you miss this January's lunar eclipse, you’ll have to wait until May 26, 2021.