Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse
Photo By: George Kharchilava
George Kharchilava, Staff Writer
This has been an astounding week for astronomers and photographers alike to catch a glimpse of this year’s total lunar eclipse. This fantastic display of our closest celestial neighbor was visible to the Americas as well as some parts of Europe and Western Africa, where many photographers such as myself stayed up late to see the event. This astronomical phenomenon was given the name “Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse” and even though it can be a mouthful, it's not entirely inaccurate.
This specific eclipse just happened to align with a lunar perigee, the Moon’s closest approach to the Earth. At this position, the Moon is approximately 225,623 miles (363,104 kilometers) away from the planet and appears relatively fourteen percent larger than at its furthest position at apogee, giving it the name Supermoon. In addition, this is also the first full Moon of January, culturally known as a Wolf Moon by the Native Americans and the Anglo-Saxons. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon becomes overshadowed by Earth and takes on a reddish hue, giving it the name Blood Moon. The reason it becomes red instead of completely dark is because of Rayleigh scattering, a phenomena that also makes sunsets and sunrises appear red. The light is refracted by Earth’s atmosphere like a giant lens, then it is reflected by the Moon back to us here on Earth. The reason why only red light makes it through is because red light has a longer wavelength. Shorter wavelengths, like that of blue, are scattered by Earth’s atmosphere. Since the Moon has virtually zero atmosphere, it has no trouble acting as a giant mirror and reflecting all of that light back into our Earthling eyes. The Moon began entering Earth’s shadow on January 20th at 10:34 p.m. EST and the total eclipse lasted from 11:41 p.m. to 12:43 a.m. EST, peaking at 12:12 a.m. EST.
Although lunar eclipses are not as rare as solar eclipses, based off precise calculations, there will not be another total lunar eclipse until May 2021, which makes these events particularly uncommon. This is because of the plane in which the Moon and Earth orbit each other. The plane is slightly tilted compared to the plane in which the Earth orbits the Sun. This is the reason why there aren't lunar eclipses every month during a Full Moon, which would be the case if the Earth-Moon system were perfectly aligned with the orbit of Earth relative to the Sun. Although the lunar eclipse has not specifically contributed to any major scientific breakthroughs as of yet, it does prove that we here on Earth show interest in our natural satellite.
Even after thousands of years of lunar eclipses, humans still gather outside to witness the amazing show that the Moon puts on for us. And thanks to science, we now know the mechanisms behind these events, allowing us to predict them so that more people can go out and appreciate the celestial show.