News

Super Blood Moon

People out west in the United States and in Australia and East Asia will have a good view of an event some call a “super blood moon.”

Where and when can I see the lunar eclipse?

Night owls in California and other points out west are in for a treat on May 26 as the moon enters Earth’s shadow and turns a blood red color during a total lunar eclipse, the first in more than two years visible from the United States.

And if you hear anyone calling this a super blood moon, that’s because the moon will also line up in its closest approach to our planet, an event some call a supermoon.

“You’re actually getting to see the solar system working, and Newton’s laws of gravity in operation before your own eyes,” said Edwin Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

In the beginning, the moon will enter only Earth’s outer shadow, called the penumbra. Any changes to the lunar surface will be subtle at first, Dr. Krupp said.

After sailing along over the next few hours, the moon will travel deeper into the shadow, at which point it will look as if something took a bite out of it. During this phase, it will begin turning reddish. This will start around 2:45 a.m. Pacific time.

At 4:11 a.m., the moon will fall completely within Earth’s inner umbral shadow and its full face will become a deep, dark red. The quirks of the moon’s orbit mean this total eclipse will be relatively short, lasting about 14 minutes and ending by 4:25 a.m. Pacific time. Some total lunar eclipses go for nearly an hour.

What happens during a lunar eclipse?

Lunar eclipses occur when our planet comes between its two major heavenly companions, the sun and moon. Moonglow is actually reflected sunlight and so the lunar surface gradually darkens as the moon falls into Earth’s long shadow.

Sometimes, the moon’s celestial movements cause it to only graze part of our planet’s shadow, leading to partial lunar eclipses, which are often difficult to see. But the event later this month will see our natural satellite totally obscured by Earth’s bulk.

Why is this a supermoon, too?

The moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle around Earth but rather an ellipse, so sometimes it will be closer and farther from our planet. This month’s supermoon should make our natural satellite appear about seven percent larger and brighter than usual in the sky, though most people will have a hard time telling the difference.

When the moon is close to the horizon, it tends to appear extremely big, a well-known optical illusion that has so far defied complete explanation. Some people hear about supermoons, witness this effect, and believe they have seen something special. But the two are unrelated, Dr. Krupp said.

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