Sunday's lunar eclipse is a 'super blood wolf moon'. What does that mean?
Not the official name, but Sunday's "super blood wolf moon" will be quite the treat for stargazers. It happens late in the evening on Sunday, Jan. 20 for us here in Alaska. The event will be visible from North and South America to western Europe and Africa. For many, the event will stretch into the early hours of Monday, Jan. 21 before it ends.
What is the 'super blood wolf moon'?
The 'super blood wolf moon' is just a fancy name for a total lunar eclipse, but a total lunar eclipse on its own is probably worth the hype. Here's a break down of the name to know what to watch for during the celestial show.
The 'blood moon' is the non-formal name given to a total lunar eclipse. The name comes from the rusty red, almost blood-like, color the moon turns when it is completely within the shadow of the earth for a short period of time during the total eclipse. The exact color depends on the particulates in earth's atmosphere and the exact position of the moon with reference to earth.
Despite being completely within the shadow of the earth, the moon doesn't go completely dark. This is because the way light from the sun reacts with earth's atmosphere.
The atmosphere itself filters out the blue light in the spectrum, which is why we see the sky as blue. The red part of the spectrum is then reflected and refracted in the atmosphere and hits the surface of the moon meaning we see a red-colored moon.
The position of the moon also plays into the brightness. If the moon is closer to earth, less light will refract to hit the moon and it will appear darker in the night sky.
The 'super moon' is the name given to the moon when it is at its perigee, or point closest to earth. Normally, this would be the time when the moon appears bigger and brighter in the night sky. This weekend's lunar eclipse coincides with the moon's perigee – making it a super total lunar eclipse.
While it would seem that the super total lunar eclipse or super blood moon would be brighter, that isn't exactly the case. Since light has the refract at a bigger angle to hit the moon, less light makes it to the surface of the moon. This means that while the moon may appear bigger, it will also be darker.
As cool as it would be to have some werewolf mythology attached to this particular eclipse, that is not the case. The wolf moon is simply the name given to the first full moon of the new year.
Total lunar eclipses are much more common than total solar eclipses, occurring several times each decade. The timing of our only total lunar eclipse of 2019 gives it the special name, 'super blood wolf moon.'
When to see it
As the moon rises from the east northeast horizon Sunday night, the show will start.
Check back with the KTVA Weather team for a detailed viewing forecast in the days before this rare celestial event.