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COSMIC STRINGS ALERT: THE SUPER WOLF BLOOD MOON

January 15, 2019 – Wow…doesn’t that sound like some kind of B-grade horror movie? BEWARE THE SUPER WOLF BLOOD MOON!!!

Fortunately, the reality of the Super Wolf Blood Moon is not scary at all. In fact, it should be awesome! Here’s what we’re talking about.

On January 20, 2019, several things will be happening to the Moon all at once. There will be a Super Moon, a Wolf Moon, and a Blood Moon – all on the same day! Let’s break this down and see exactly what this wild-sounding name means.

First of all, January’s Full Moon is a Super Moon. This occurs when the date of the Full phase of the Moon happens on or near the date of the Moon’s closest approach to the Earth. The Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle, so sometimes the Moon is closer to use than at other times. When the Full Moon happens during lunar perigee (the fancy name for being as close to the Earth as you get), we call it a Super Moon. Despite the grand sounding name, the Moon won’t really look any bigger or brighter to you during a Super Moon. The only way you can really tell it’s different is by taking pictures of the Full Moon throughout the year at the same scale and lining them up. But anyway, that’s the “Super” in Super Wolf Blood Moon.

A “Super Moon” and a “Micro Moon” (smallest Full Moon of the year) photographed at the same scale. Courtesy NASA.

What about Wolf? Well, in many early societies, there were traditions of naming the Full Moons of each month. January’s Full Moon is often called the “Wolf Moon,” both by Native American tribes and by many European cultures. So even without the big deal this year, January’s Full Moon can always be called the Wolf Moon if you like. Not sure about that one? Well, you could also call it the Ice Moon or the Snow Moon or the Moon after Yule. The Super After Yule Blood Moon? Hmmm…I think I’ll stick with Super Wolf Boon Moon, thanks.

Okay, finally, there’s the “Blood” part of this crazy name…and let’s face it, this is the part that makes the whole thing sound super creepy. But actually, it’s this part that makes the whole thing super cool as well.

A “Blood Moon” is a traditional way of referring to a total lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth, making the Moon often look reddish in color. That color comes from the reddish light of world’s sunsets, refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere and allowing a little light to leak even into the darkest part of the shadow of the Earth. Since that light must come through the atmosphere of the Earth, the color of the Moon during a lunar eclipse tells us about the state of the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomers measure the brightness of a total lunar eclipse using the Danjon scale:

L0: Very dark eclipse. Moon almost invisible, especially during totality.

L1: Dark eclipse. Grey or Brown in coloration.

L2: Deep red or rust-colored eclipse

L3: Brick red eclipse, often with a bright or yellow rim.

L4: Bright copper-red or orange eclipse, often with a bluish rim.


Two lunar eclipses in 2003. Their ratings on the Danjon Scale would be roughly 2 (left) and 4 (right). Image by Tom Ruen.

If the Moon is very dark, it means that the air of the Earth is pretty dusty, with a great deal of particulate materials to scatter light away from the shadow, such as might occur after a major volcanic eruption. By contrast, a bright-colored eclipse often indicates very clear global air conditions.

On January 20, you’ll want to be watching the Full Moon, starting at around 10pm. By 10:30pm, you might notice that the edge of the Moon looks a little funny. By midnight, the Moon will be engulfed in the Earth’s shadow! And after about an hour of totality, the Moon will begin to slide back out of the shadow of the Earth. By around 2am, the show is over. But what a show the Super Wolf Blood Moon will provide! You can use a telescope or binoculars if you have one available, but honestly, the best view will be had just by looking up with your own two eyes. And you don’t even necessarily need to go outside…if you can get a good view of the Full Moon through a window, turn out your lights inside, stay warm, and enjoy the show.

Now go and share the news of the upcoming Super Wolf Blood Moon with others! It promises to be amazing, and not the least bit scary at all.

Kelly

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