Many of us missed the super blue blood moon lunar eclipse this morning. We may have missed it either because of weather (clouds) or because it wasn’t complete in the part of the world where we live. So did we miss seeing a rare phenomenon?
A total lunar eclipse happens about once every year-and-a-half, but this one was special. An eclipse like the one this morning has not happened in North America in the last CENTURY-and-a-half. (Yesterday we explained what a super blue blood moon is.) The last time there was a supermoon total eclipse in North America was in 2015. A blue moon lunar eclipse last occurred in 1982. But the last time that North America saw a total eclipse of a blue supermoon was in 1866. Unfortunately for most of us in North America, this morning’s eclipse happened at or near the setting of the Moon, so we could only see part of it at best. In addition to that, much of central North America was cloudy.
Watching a lunar eclipse can be fascinating, but what is special about the Moon? Compared to the moons of other planets in our solar system, our moon is larger in relation to planet Earth. The size of the Moon and it’s distance from the Earth makes total SOLAR eclipses possible, but we have examined that before. The size of the Moon and its distance from Earth puts it in tidal lock with the Earth. What that means is that the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth. We see only one side of the Moon every night year-after-year.
What is our Moon good for except to look at? The truth is that without the Moon, Earth would be a much more hostile place to live. The gravity of the Moon creates the ocean tides which clean the bays and estuaries essential for many plants, animals, and birds. The gravity of the moon has slowed and stabilized the Earth’s rotation and tilt, shaping the life-cycles of plants and animals and determining our wind patterns and weather. The Moon reflects the light of the Sun to give a night light essential for many forms of life.
As most people know, tomorrow morning (January 31) before sunrise there will be a total eclipse of the Moon. It will not be an ordinary lunar eclipse because it will be a Super Blue Blood Moon. What does that mean?
It’s called “super” because the Moon is at perigee. That means the Moon is at its closest point to the Earth. The Moon’s orbit of Earth is somewhat elliptical so at times it is farther away, and sometimes it’s closer. At the closest point, it is somewhat larger and brighter than when it is at its farthest point, called apogee.
What about the “blue?” One thing for sure, the Moon won’t look blue. This will be the second full moon during January. Two full moons during one month don’t happen very often, only “once in a blue moon” as the saying goes. When we do have two in one month, the second full moon is called a “blue moon.”
Why is it called a “blood moon?” That’s because during a total lunar eclipse the Moon looks red. A lunar eclipse happens when Earth’s shadow blocks the Sun’s light from the Moon. Lunar eclipses only happen when the Moon is at its “full” stage because that is when the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Only when the Moon, Earth, and Sun line-up perfectly does Earth’s shadow block the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. However, even during a total eclipse some of the light from the Sun is bent by the Earth’s atmosphere enough that it reaches the Moon’s surface. The bending occurs mostly in the red end of the visible spectrum, so some red light reaches the Moon, and we see that red light reflected back to us. It’s the same red effect we see at sunrise and sunset.
So that’s how we can have a Super Blue Blood Moon. If you want to know when you can see the eclipse in your area, there are many websites that give that information such as NASA.gov.