SAN DIEGO — It’s not every year that a super blood wolf moon happens, so skywatchers were in for a rare treat Sunday evening during one of the first skywatching events of 2019.
Most of the world was able to catch a glimpse of this rare event, but especially North and South America, Europe and Africa.
San Diegans had a roughly hour-long window to catch the glowing, red orb in the sky. The moon could likely be seen from your neighborhood, but the Fleet Science Center hosted a special viewing party in Balboa Park for those who wanted to take in the sight with company. The event included a planetarium show and a special presentation of the film “Hubble” at the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater.
Cloud cover in some parts of San Diego didn’t fully cooperate, leaving many residents with a clear look at the lunar eclipse but no great views of the moon’s red glow. Other viewers reported catching a glimpse of the coppery orb, especially out in Julian.
But back to basics: You may be wondering what the moon’s strange name means. Let’s break it down.
What’s in a name?
Basically, this rare total lunar eclipse is happening at the same time as a supermoon. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Lunar eclipses can occur only during a full moon, and this one is extra special because it’s also a supermoon. A supermoon occurs when the moon is full and closest to Earth in orbit.
The moon will be in perfect alignment with the sun and Earth, with the moon on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun.
Earth will cast two shadows on the moon during the eclipse. The penumbra is the partial outer shadow, and the umbra is the full, dark shadow.
When the full moon moves into Earth’s shadow, it will darken, but it won’t disappear. Sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere will light the moon in a dramatic fashion, turning it red.
Depending on weather conditions in your area, it may be rusty, brick-colored or blood-red.
This happens because blue light undergoes stronger atmospheric scattering, so red light will be the most dominant color highlighted as sunlight passes through our atmosphere and casts it on the moon.
So where does the “wolf” part come in? Each moon has its own name associated with the full moon. In January, it’s known as the “wolf moon,” inspired by hungry wolves that howled outside of villages long ago, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Why so rare?
This unique total lunar eclipse began on January 20 at 7:35 p.m. PT and ended at 10:51 p.m. PT on January 21.
Why don’t we see total lunar eclipses more often?
“There is a little less than one total lunar eclipse per year on average,” Freeman said. “A lunar eclipse can only happen during a full moon, when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. But the moon’s orbit is tilted a little bit compared to the Earth’s, so usually when the moon is full, the Earth’s shadow passes a little bit above or a little bit below it. This is why we don’t have a lunar eclipse every month.”
Partial eclipses are more common.
The Virtual Telescope Project shared a live stream of the lunar eclipse at its brightest above the skyline of Rome.
And unlike solar eclipses, the lunar eclipse was safe to view with the naked eye or binoculars. It also afforded a unique view of the sky.
“A blood moon is one of the few opportunities we have to see both the moon and the stars in the sky at the same time, since the moon is usually too bright,” Freeman said.