Get ready for the "super blood wolf moon" … or not

Christopher Davidson
January 18, 2019

Between the night of January 20 and 21 the moon will pass through the Earth's shadow, casting a gloomy red glow over the planet. Since this is the day before Martin Luther King Day, many children will not have school the next day and can stay up to enjoy the celestial spectacle with their families. The Moon is given the name Super Moon when a full moon comes within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth.

"The total lunar eclipse will be the first visible in North America in three years". "Lunar eclipses. reflect our world", astronomer and podcaster Pamela Gay told in an email. You can look at it with your naked eye. And wolves do howl in the direction of the moon; they point their faces toward the sky for better acoustics, because projecting their howl upward carries the sound farther.

"A little bit of sunlight is refracted by the Earth's atmosphere... bending around the edges of the Earth" before reaching the moon, causing the reddish tint. Viewed from the USA east coast the moon will enter Earth's umbra just a few minutes after 10:30 P.M., with the full lunar disk falling wholly into shadow for slightly over an hour, beginning at 11:41 P.M. At just before midnight, every child below the age of 99 ... and, yes, there are other "older children" like me ... will be able to watch a total lunar eclipse.

"During the total phases, the moon will be in the south west part of the sky - roughly where the summer sun would be in mid-afternoon". "Front row center" belongs to those who live near and along the U.S. East Coast, where the totally eclipsed moon will climb to extraordinary heights. The moon will start to move into Earth's shadow at about 2.30am, but will be completely inside the shadow between 4.40am and 5.40am. And you'll see that nice red color as the moon goes into the total eclipse. The only light wavelength left is red - dimly illuminating the moon with less than one-thousandth of the full moon's normal brightness.

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Finally, the "wolf moon" is just another name for the first full moon of the year.

Furthermore, the moon will be very high in the midwinter sky for the continental US, far from the horizon (where architecture, light pollution and low-lying clouds might otherwise spoil the view). For the next hour, the moon will dim slightly.

JPL's website says Sunday's lunar eclipse is a great opportunity for students to learn more about the alignments and interaction of sun, Earth and moon.

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