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Brace yourself, it’s a Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Lunar Eclipse coming our way

January 13, 2019
Lunar eclipse sequence and Super Moon on September 2015.

On Jan. 20 Idahoans and most of the nation can look to the night sky and see the moon get bigger, slowly vanish and turn blood-red.

Call it a Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Lunar Eclipse, but don’t panic, just enjoy. Dig out the tripod and telephoto lens and snap a few photos. (That is, unless it’s snowing, then build a snow-moon man instead.)

It’s all going to be a normal astronomical event worth skipping TV for, says University of Idaho associate professor of astronomy and planetary science Jason Barnes.

Here’s what the terms mean. Super Moon means the moon is a bit closer to Earth and looks a little bigger; Wolf Moon is the first full moon of the year; Blood Moon is the color the moon often gets during an eclipse when it passes into the Earth’s dusty shadow.

“This isn’t like the solar eclipse we had in 2017,” Barnes said. “That was amazing. Those are really rare because you have to be at the right spot on Earth to be below the moon’s shadow. A lunar eclipse, in contrast, is when the moon passes into the Earth’s shadow. You can see these from anywhere on Earth where you can see the moon.”

Another difference between a solar eclipse and lunar eclipse is the duration, Barnes said.

“Unlike a solar eclipse which lasts a few minutes in its totality, a lunar eclipse will take a couple of hours,” he said. “In this particular eclipse the moon will be totally in the Earth’s shadow for about an hour. As it passes in and out it will be partially shadowed by the earth for a much longer duration — about another couple of hours.”

Amy Truksa, the Planetarium director at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, said if the weather cooperates the lunar eclipse will be easy to see.

“It will start about 7:30 p.m.,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter where you’re at because it will be high on the horizon.”

Truksa recommends using a tripod to take good photos with a camera, “but there are also lots of tips on the internet about how to take good photos with a smartphone.”

Barnes said the moon’s dark red color comes from light scattering through Earth’s atmosphere causing the shadow to cast a red tint over the moon.

This year is also supposed to have a “blue” moon, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the orb’s color. There are two definitions of a blue moon. One is if a season has four full moons, then the third full moon is called a Blue Moon. That will happen May 19. The other definition for a blue moon is when a month features two full moons. The next time that happens is Oct. 31, 2020. Thus the rarity spawns the saying, “once in a blue moon.”

Other astronomical events going on this year include meteor showers. One just finished Thursday. The next one is due in mid-April.

The really big show — a solar eclipse — also will happen, but you’ll have to travel to see it.

“There’s a solar eclipse but you’ll have to be down in Chile to see that,” Barnes said.

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