Astronomy fanatics are in for a treat Jan. 20, when Earth will pass between the sun and full moon to create a total lunar eclipse that will turn the moon’s silvery shine into a blood-red glow.
The perfect celestial alignment will be enhanced by the fact that it coincides with a “supermoon,” which means it will look bigger and brighter than usual. This happens just a few times a year, when the moon comes closest to the earth.
Together, the events will create a phenomenon known as the “super blood wolf moon” — a nod to a Native American term for full moons in January.
Some tribes named full moons based on the behavior of the plants, animals, or weather during that month. The “wolf” moon was named after the wolves that would howl out of hunger in the dead of winter.
The super blood wolf moon will appear in the night sky on the evening of Jan. 20 and last approximately 62 minutes, according to NASA.
In Boston, the partial eclipse will begin at 10:33 p.m., and it will reach the total eclipse at 11:41 p.m, according to Space.com. The full eclipse will end at 12:43 a.m., but if you stay awake long enough, you can watch the moon return to its bright, silver self.
Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said a total lunar eclipse is “wonderful to see, so if we’re fortunate to have a cloud-free night, it’s actually worth staying up for it.”
The last total lunar eclipse happened in July. The next one will be in May 2021, according to Space.com.
Anyone on the dark side of Earth that night, which includes all of North and South America, will be able to see the eclipse, Alcock said. He added that it could be “fun to have binoculars with you,” to see additional detail on the surface of the moon.
Michael Deneen, the founder of an astronomy club in Gloucester, said that the red hue that gives the phenomenon its eerie name comes from the scattering of sunlight through Earth’s atmosphere. It’s the same effect that causes sunsets to appear red — but on a much larger scale.
“You’re looking at the moon from all the sunrises and all the sunsets in the world,” Deneen said. “If you’re on the moon, you’ll see a ring of fire around the planet.”
He said a total lunar eclipse is like a meteor shower: “You don’t need equipment to enjoy it, you just go outside, and there it is.”