People throughout North and South America had the chance to witness a Super Blood Wolf Moon on Sunday during a total lunar eclipse.
The eclipse began around 10:30 p.m., reached totality at 11:41 p.m. and lasted for approx. an hour.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is between the sun and the moon casting the moon in the Earth’s shadow.
Pictured below and at the top of the article are photos of the Super Blood Wolf Moon by Western Carolina University students Rebecca Colley and Nikki Cherruault.
Why “Super,” “Blood,” “Wolf”?
Super – A full moon is when the moon is at its closest point to the Earth in its orbit. A full moon is called a Super Moon.
Blood – Light that reaches the moon has to travel through the Earth’s atmosphere. Red has a longer wavelength than other colors and makes its way through the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere, which is why sunrise and sunsets are orange and red.
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Western Carolina University, Enrique Gomez, said the ruddy coloration of the moon during a total lunar eclipse is due to Earth’s atmosphere and scattered light.
“The reason why is because you are seeing the combined scattered light from the Earth’s atmosphere of every sunrise and sunset on Earth at the same time,” said Gomez. “The Earth’s atmosphere preferentially scatters around the blue light from the light spectrum of the sun (which is why the sky is blue for us) and the red is less likely to be absorbed. During sunrise/sunset the light of the sun has to travel through the thickest part of the atmosphere, so red light makes it through. If you were standing on the moon looking at the Earth during a lunar eclipse, you would see the dark disk of the Earth surrounded by a red halo, which is the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Wolf – Many cultures have traditional names for the full moons each month. January’s full moon is traditionally called a Wolf Moon. February’s is called a Snow Moon, and March’s is called a Worm Moon.
Lunar eclipses tend to happen every six months during periods Gomez and those in his field call eclipse seasons, when typically, solar and lunar eclipses cluster and take place within two weeks of each other. The last eclipse visible from Earth was July 27, 2018. The last one visible in North Carolina was January 31, 2018.
The next lunar eclipse visible to those on the Plateau is on July 5, 2020. The next total eclipse will be visible on May 26, 2021, but the moon will be setting in North Carolina before totality. The next best chance to see an eclipse like the one on Sunday with totality is May 16, 2022, said Gomez.
Gomez added that the science of lunar eclipses is well known, and there is not much more to be discovered. However, every lunar eclipse is different because weather on Earth can change the color range that is present. If there are strong storm systems over the South Pacific, for instance, the eclipse may appear a darker red. If there are volcanic eruptions that send aerosols to the upper atmosphere, you may get dark gray eclipses because even the red would be absorbed. It becomes a teaching tool so that the public can imagine how weather on Earth is dynamic, and that distant weather events can affect what they experience.
“Last night I got to teach my introductory astronomy students some techniques of digital astrophotography, which makes them enthusiastic about the subject because they get to produce images that they own and that they think about at a deeper level than what you get when passively consuming digital images,” he said.
Full Moons or Super Moons are always followed by new moons, the next new moon is Feb. 4.
Gomez said astronomy is more than the study of the nature of objects in the sky beyond the atmosphere.
“My experience is that the direct observation of something in the sky that is so much larger than what we interact with in daily experience has a transformative effect on human beings,” said Gomez. “We as people have a need to see how we fit in the narrative of the origin of the universe: where we stand in space and time with regards to the largest structures and events that can exist. The study of the sky gives us the permission to contemplate deeper questions and to have the audacity to present and test answers to such questions. If one indeed has the internal resources and the self-reliance to seek out answers for such questions, is there anything in life that one cannot do?”
Editor’s Note: Historically, I have a habit of failing when it comes to photographing cosmic objects, but I was optimistic and thought I had a great plan for the total lunar eclipse. I went up to Sunset Rock around 10 p.m. on Sunday. The view of the stars and the eclipse was incredible, the downside was that winds were approx. 30 mph and it was around 7 degrees.
After breaking one tripod (crucial when taking photos of objects far away) and my back-up tripod could not handle the intensity of the high winds, the only way to stabilize the camera was to lay on my back with my head on a rock. Perfect I thought, problem solved. Mind you I was dressed appropriately, but after 15 minutes I could no longer feel my hands. I couldn’t turn on my headlamp, push the camera button, or use my phone. After realizing all of those things were futile I retreated back to my car and limited my time outside to 10 minutes, pictured below is what I came up with.
Pictured below are photos taken from Sunset Rock late Sunday night and into Monday morning. The only editing done to the photos was cropping.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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