EYES TO THE SKY: Blue Moon total lunar eclipse, the first in 150 years, on the 31st

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By Monday, Jan 8 Learning  4 Comments
Greg Hogan/EarthSky.org
Blue moons don’t really look blue in color. Greg Hogan got this shot of the Blue Moon (blue in name only!) in a cloudy sky on July 31, 2015. He wrote: 'Having some fun with the blue moon idea……I blended the same image twice one with a blue tint, and one normal. :)'

January 8 – 21, 2018

Mount Washington — The phrase “once in a blue moon” has evolved to describe an unusual occurrence. True blue-colored moons are rare; for example, the moon may appear blue when seen through volcanic or fire ash in the atmosphere. In popular astronomy, a Blue Moon is the second of two full moons in a month. January’s first full moon, on New Year’s Day, arrived at full phase at 9:25 p.m. A second full moon this month will follow, 29 1/2 days after the first, reaching full phase on Wednesday the 31st at 8:27 a.m. Not only is it a Blue Moon, it is a Perigean Full Moon that will be eclipsed by the Sun! Perigee, from the Latin “peri-” (“around”) and “ge” (“earth”), conveys that the moon is closest to Earth in its orbit–popularly known as a supermoon.

For your location, check whether the Moon will rise or set during some stage of the eclipse. An eclipsed Moon is always full, so the Sun sets or rises at almost the same time on the opposite horizon. This means that a lunar-eclipse moonrise always happens in a very bright sky. Image: Leah Tiscione/S&T, published with permission, skyandtelescope.com

Joe Rao writes: “How unusual are Blue Moon eclipses? To answer that question, we consulted the reference book Canon of Lunar Eclipses, 1500 B.C. – A.D. 3000, by Bao-Lin Liu and Alan D. Fiala (Willmann-Bell Inc., 1992). …for a total eclipse of a Blue Moon, we have to go all the way back to March 31, 1866. So, the upcoming eclipse on Jan. 31 will be the first total eclipse of a Blue Moon in nearly 152 years!*

In any umbral lunar eclipse, the moon always passes through Earth’s very light penumbral shadow before and after its journey through the dark umbral shadow.

Here in the northeast, the event will be a fleeting partial eclipse that begins at dawn as the big moon approaches the west-northwest horizon. It will be challenging to see even the partial eclipse in our hilly terrain; it is essential to locate a horizon view. The penumbra (see diagram), which is very subtle, is first visible at 6:20 a.m. Partial eclipse begins at 6:48 a.m. According to Sky and Telescope, “Within 10 minutes, [by 6:58 a.m.,] the lunar orb looks like a giant sugar cookie with a bite taken out of it.” Ten minutes later, at 7:08 a.m., the moon sets! The whole timeframe is from 6:20 a.m. until 7:08 a.m. The Sun will be rising in the east-southeast at 7:08 a.m.

Even if there wasn’t an eclipse, I’d be out there to witness the beauty of the setting full moon at perigee. Add the possibility of catching the shadow of the Earth on the moon’s face, and I might climb a mountain in the twilight for a better view.

My impetus for writing about the upcoming lunar eclipse early in the month is to give readers time to make plans, should you be compelled to travel west to see the total or nearly total eclipse somewhere over America. Look closely at the attached map, especially the western two-thirds of the country.

Image courtesy skyandtelescope.com





Opportunities to participate

February 9, 2018: Application deadline for extraordinary summer teacher workshops. Scholarships available – https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/teachers/profdev

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4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Kerry Wells says:

    Don’t know about lunar eclipses, but a solar eclipse is a harbinger of bad events to come, evidenced by the uptick in natural disasters and human tragedies following the one that happened in August. A solar eclipse is the darkening of the Light of Jesus Christ, the same consciousness as the Sun, our Star. It is our Sun shining on us daily all day every day with little fanfare that we should be celebrating. The moon is the symbol of darkness, it is a dark consciousness and representative of malevolence and evil. It is an affront to Jesus Christ to continue to celebrate these moon events, and I hope we will instead thank God for every ray of sunshine that touches our skin during the daytime hours, we take it for granted so much. It not only lights our way but is our spiritual protection on Earth. Darkness and Light cannot coexist, and the Light chases away the darkness and keeps us safe from it, just as Jesus Christ and his Holy Light protect us from the forces of darkness and evil.

  2. Hanne says:

    This is one of those natural phenomena that remind us what an awesome place the natural world is. Back in Biblical times, as I found out when researching for official site acewriters into cultural studies, humans had no concept of the dance of the spheres, and had no explanation beyond magic for any of the events of nature. That we (homo sapiens) have both learned to ask the questions and find the answers is an amazing development, and worthy of all the awe and reverence we are capable of.

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