On any given night, looking up and watching the moon in the night sky can be awe-inspiring. However, sky-gazers in Europe and both the Americas are in for a special treat on Sunday, 20th January. They will be able to witness this year’s only total lunar eclipse, with a little something extra. As the full moon passes through the earth’s shadow, a number of factors will combine to create a ‘super blood wolf moon’.
What a strange name! What does it mean? A total lunar eclipse is also called a blood moon because when the sun, Earth and moon all briefly form a near perfect line-up in space, Earth casts a reddish shadow on the moon. Earth’s atmosphere causes colours in the light spectrum with shorter wavelengths such as violet and blue to scatter more, thus filtering them out. Those with longer wavelengths, like red and orange, pass through the atmosphere and hit the surface of the moon, thus making it appear red during the lunar eclipse.
Sunday’s lunar eclipse will also coincide with the occurrence of the supermoon. This means that the moon is at a point in its orbit, from where it’s closer to Earth. This makes the moon seem 10 – 15 % larger in the sky. A “wolf moon” is simply the folk name for a full moon that happens in the month of January.
The eclipse will start on Sunday night or early Monday, depending on the location, and will take about three hours. It begins with the partial phase around 10:34 p.m. EST (America Eastern Standard Time) on Sunday. That’s when the moon is partially submerged in Earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse will last 62 minutes, beginning at 11:41 p.m. EST on Sunday.
If the skies are clear, the entire eclipse will be visible in North and South America, as well as Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and the French and Spanish coasts. The rest of Europe, as well as Africa, will have partial viewing before the moon sets.
Can we see this in India? Unfortunately we in India will not be able to witness this phenomenon live. But we can watch it online on a Time and Date live stream from 8.30 am IST on January 21 .
The next total lunar eclipse will occur on 26 May 2021.
Written by: Chandni Shah. Chandni is a picture book collector, an educator and founder of Simplifly, a learning venture for children.