Astronomy lovers! Get geeked for ‘super blue blood moon’ in January

The universe greets 2018 in stellar fashion with an overflow of lunar delight, including two supermoons, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse.

To purists, the New Year’s Day full moon is the closest to Earth in 14 months, making it the truest of a triumvirate of supermoons that began their parade in December.

For folklorists, the Jan. 31 full moon is a supermoon because of its nearness to Earth, but also adds the galactic glamour of a blue moon — the second full moon in a month — and a blood moon, so-called because it will experience a total eclipse.

“It’s a super blue blood moon,” said NASA research scientists Noah Petro, who winces a little when using pop culture jargon to describe Earth’s only permanent natural satellite. “These are kind of weird terms, but if they get people to look at the moon, that’s good.”

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Petro, deputy project scientist for the lunar reconnaissance orbiter, is personally conservative when handing out the moniker of supermoon, reserving the title for the closest moon to Earth in a calendar year.

One NASA blog counts the full moons of Dec. 3, Jan. 1 and Jan. 31 also as supermoons.

Regardless, Petro said Monday night’s full moon will appear approximately 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than the smallest full moon of the year.

It becomes precisely full at 9:24 p.m., but will rise plump over South Florida’s eastern horizon at 5:31 p.m., minutes before the 5:38 p.m. sunset. Monday night’s full moon will be 221,559 miles from Earth. That’s compared to average distance of 236,790 miles.

“I would really encourage people to use this as an opportunity, if it’s warm, to go outside, just stop, and look up for a bit,” Petro said. “If it’s cloudy on the first, then you can go out on the second.”

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Supermoons are not unusual, but what is exceptional is that the Jan. 31 supermoon is the second full moon in a month, and the moon will experience a total lunar eclipse, according to Paige Godfrey, director of research and education at the online astronomy website Slooh.

“A blue moon occurs every couple of years, especially when a full moon happens at the beginning of a month, such as January 2018, so that there is time for the next full moon to occur 29.5 days later,” Godfrey said. “Add in the total lunar eclipse occurring around the world, and you have yourself a pretty rare treat.”

A full moon total eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the sun and moon, with the Earth’s shadow blocking the sun’s light from the lunar surface. It is sometimes described as a blood moon because the light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse can give it a reddish hue.

South Florida, and most of the eastern U.S., will not be in the best position to see the total lunar eclipse because it will occur closer to moonset when the moon is lower on the western horizon. A partial eclipse will begin at 6:48 a.m. on Jan. 31, but the moon will duck away before totality occurs.

The eclipse will be fully visible in western North America across the Pacific to Eastern Asia, with a partial eclipse beginning at 3:48 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, followed by the total eclipse at 4:52 a.m.

“Everybody got very excited by the total solar eclipse this year so I think we learned that people are generally interested in astronomy and astro events,” Petro said. “People came together for the eclipse. It focuses you on what’s important.”

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