To kick off 2019, our universe will be putting on a spectacular Super Wolf Blood Moon show on January 20th!
Sounds fantastic and a bit scary, but what exactly is it? Turns out it’s a lunar eclipse that has a rare combination of events. Let’s take a look at what a lunar eclipse is and how this one came to be called a Super Wolf Blood Moon.
What are Lunar Eclipses?
The moon is made up of dark volcanic rock that do not emanate any light. When we see the moon in the night sky, it’s because it is reflecting light from the sun back towards us.
The moon makes a full orbit around Earth approximately every month. Depending on its location in the orbit, we see a full or partial moon (moon phases) based on how much we can see of its reflected sunlight.
A full moon occurs when Earth lines up between the sun and the moon and the full face of the moon is visible to us on Earth. This is also when lunar eclipses can happen if Earth actually blocks sunlight from the moon. Because the moon orbits Earth on a different plane from the Earth’s orbit around the sun, lunar eclipses do not happen every month but only once every few months.
There are three types of lunar eclipses – total, partial and penumbral. A total eclipse is when the moon is completely in Earth’s umbral shadow. The dark center of a shadow is called the umbra, while penumbra is the lighter portion on the shadow’s edges. A partial eclipse is when only a part of the moon is in Earth’s umbral shadow, and a penumbral eclipse is when the moon is only in Earth’s penumbral shadow.
Different Moon Names
We now know what a full moon is as well as the three types of lunar eclipses. But what about supermoons, blood moons or in this case, a Super Wolf Blood moon? Let’s take a look at each name!
Our moon’s orbit around Earth is not a perfect circle. It is sometimes closer to Earth and sometimes further away. The closest point is called perigee and the furthest point is called apogee. When a full moon happens at close to its perigee, it is called a super moon because it will appear bigger and brighter than normal.
Throughout history, humans have used the moon’s phases to track the passing of time and to decide when to plant and harvest crops. Ancient cultures have named each month’s full moon based on the behavior of plants, animals or weather. Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January’s full moon the Wolf Moon, supposedly due to the howling of hungry wolves from the scarcity of food in winter.
During a lunar eclipse, the moon becomes reddish in color because the only light that it receives is reflected from Earth’s atmosphere. Our atmosphere scatters blue light, so only red light is reflected onto the moon’s surface. So the name blood moon is a dramatic way to refer to a lunar eclipse. While it may sound catchy, a blood moon does not actually turn bright red but instead, it is typically a coppery red tone.
January 2019 Lunar Eclipse
So there you have it! The upcoming lunar eclipse on January 20th is officially a Super Wolf Blood Moon because it is happening during the month of January and will occur near its perigee. It will also be a total eclipse, the last one until May 2021.
The eclipse will be visible throughout all of North America. The moon is scheduled to enter Earth’s umbra around 7:30 pm on the West Coast (10:30 pm East Coast), and be in total eclipse an hour later. It will stay in total eclipse for another hour and then slowly start leaving Earth’s shadow.
Sources: Space.com, Popsci, National Geographic, NASA, ABC