There has been considerable coverage on all things lunar-related recently, and this Moon-Madness isn’t quite finished yet.
On 31 January, we will be treated to a rare celestial event which some are calling a ‘super blue blood moon eclipse’ – quite a mouthful! For the first time since 31 March 1866, three separate celestial events will occur simultaneously over one evening.
The first of these events is a supermoon, the second of 2018. The term supermoon refers to when a full moon coincides with the closest the Moon gets to Earth during its orbit. During a supermoon, the Moon appears about 14 percent larger than a normal full moon and around 30 percent brighter. In reality, this isn’t actually a drastic difference. However, when a supermoon is close to the horizon, it appears even bigger. Our eyes visually compare The size of earthly things, such as buildings and trees, to the size of the Moon, resulting in a strikingly beautiful and super (!) view.
The second celestial event to occur on this same night is a ‘blue moon.’ This term is used when two full moons occur in a single calendar month. Despite the phrase “once in a blue moon” meaning something occurring infrequently, an actual blue moon occurs about every two and a half years. This phenomenon happens due to the slight differences between calendar months and lunar phases. Each full moon occurs every 29.5 days, however, calendar months vary between 28 and 31 days.
The third celestial phenomena to occur is a total lunar eclipse, also known as a blood moon. This happens when a full moon, Earth and the Sun line up. This alignment term is delightfully called a ‘syzygy’ which comes from the Greek word for “being paired together.” The Moon does not have its own light but instead is illuminated due to its surface reflecting the Sun’s rays. During a total lunar eclipse, Earth blocks any direct sunlight from reaching the Moon. The Sun is behind Earth, so it causes Earth’s shadow to reflect on the Moon instead of the Sun’s rays. So where does the term ‘blood moon’ come from? It’s all to do with light and the atmosphere. The sky is blue because when the Sun’s light hits our atmosphere, it scatters more blue light across the sky than the other colours. Red light is often seen during sunset because we view it through the thicker parts of Earth’s atmosphere. When the Moon goes into Earth’s shadow, the sunlight is passing through Earth’s atmosphere and refracting onto the Moon, creating a blood-red colour across the lunar surface. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely fine to view with the naked eye.
To celebrate this Moon-madness, Stardome is hosting a Lunar Eclipse Special Sighting event, staying open until 3am of 1 February, where attendees can witness all three lunar phenomena at Stardome, after hours. Rock up in your PJ’s (if you wish!) to catch a planetarium show about the Moon, watch NASA live streams, look through the Zeiss telescope, peer through our courtyard telescopes, take part in Moon astrophotography workshops and wander through our special Lunar Exhibition in the Matariki Room.
31 January, 8PM – February 1st 3AM. $5 per person. No need to book. Show up as you please! Find out more here.
Teach the young ones in your life (or the young at heart!) about the lunar eclipse in this fun video.