On January 21st the entirety of the North and South American continents will get to experience a total lunar eclipse for the first time in 19 years. Lunar eclipses happen about once a year, but they usually appear partial to most viewers, so this is a rarity. The next time it happens is in 2058. What this means is that you don’t have to travel anywhere to see what will appear to be a huge, red moon. Just go out on the night of January 20th and look up.
When the earth comes between the sun and moon, the shadow it casts makes the moon appear a deep red, hence the term “blood” moon. This can be magic looking as the shadow of the earth slowly passes. But what makes this year’s astronomical show even more spectacular is that it will also be a “Supermoon.” A Supermoon happens when the moon is at its perigee, or closest point to the Earth. Because of that the moon appears brighter, and three times larger than usual to the naked eye.
The eclipse is a slow process though. On the East Coast it will start Sunday evening around 10:30 pm, reach maximum around 1:15 am, and end around 2:30 am. If you can’t stay up to watch it, you can catch the video here. Still, it may be worth the effort: for one thing, unlike with the sun, you can actually stare directly at a lunar eclipse, but the most compelling argument may be that it will be twenty-nine years until the next time we have this particular line up again.
Photo Credit: Keith Burns/NASA/JPL