What is the meaning of “super wolf blood moon”?
We all saw it and heard about it. The super wolf blood moon illuminated the night sky on Jan 20, 2019. It was a lunar eclipse that doesn’t show up commonly but I didn’t think much of it until news stories reported just how many unique aspects it had itself. “Super” refers to the moon’s close proximity to the earth therefore appearing larger than normal. A “wolf” moon is first full moon of the year. And lastly, a “blood moon” occurs when the moon is in a total shadow but some of the sun’s light passes and refracts through the earth’s atmosphere. Red light passes through easier than all the other colours in the spectrum which makes the moon appear red. I am not a virtuoso, therefore the only fact I knew about lunar eclipses was that they occur when the earth directly hinders the sun’s light pathway to the moon thus casting a shadow on it. I discovered that what I knew was only surface information and there was a lot more I had no prior knowledge about lunar eclipses.
What causes lunar eclipses?
Before I begin, the moon has non-existent light and instead, reflects the sun’s rays towards the earth. You and I should both know this since our early stages of childhood. A lunar eclipse occurs when earth’s shadows cast on the moon fully or partially. The earth generates two cone-shaped shadows called the umbra and penumbra when encountering light. The umbra is a dark, centered shadow while the penumbra is a less dark and more diffused one. Any time the moon lands under the umbra completely, it is considered to be a lunar eclipse. This is not an easy task though; it is like walking to school in the same number of footsteps every time. Lunar eclipses can only occur at a full moon. There are three types: total, partial and penumbral.
Types of lunar eclipses
A total lunar eclipse takes place when the earth, moon and sun align perfectly and the earth’s umbra completely covers the moon. Although the moon cannot interact with sunlight directly, sunlight refracts off earth’s atmosphere which gives the moon a red colour, creating a blood moon. A red moon seems like a wonderous night sky view to me! However, the moon can be different colours during total lunar eclipses depending on where in earth’s atmosphere the sun refracts off of. Some such colours include yellow, orange or brown. The next total lunar eclipse to be visible in North America is on May 26, 2021.
A partial eclipse occurs when the Earth positions between the sun and moon but they don’t align precisely; only a fraction of the moon’s surface is inside the area of the umbra. The rest of it is covered by the penumbra. This is like walking to school in the same amount of time everyday; these eclipse are more common than total lunar eclipses but still are not quite relevant. One side of the moon will appear dark and the other will be visible therefore creating a subtle half-moon view. The next upcoming partial lunar eclipse visible in North America will be on Nov 18-19, 2021.
Last but not least, comes the penumbral eclipse. It occurs when the moon lands completely in the earth’s fainter shadow, the penumbra. Since it is such a distinct lunar eclipse, it is often mistaken for a full moon. A penumbra lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth and moon are imperfectly aligned so that the earth blocks some of the Sun’s light from reaching the moon directly. About one in three of all lunar eclipses are penumbral. However, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate it from a full moon unless you are an astronomy expert and have a keen eye through a telescope. The next couple ones are on July 4-5, 2020 and Nov 29-30, 2020 so maybe stay on the lookout for a penumbral eclipse in the sky and try to make out its differences from a regular full moon!
And that concludes it. I hope I have given you something to take away and extra knowledge and insight on the lunar eclipse phenomenon. They might not seem extraordinary every time but every now and then, their presences are surreal. If you were sufficiently indolent to have missed this year’s seldom super wolf blood moon, draw your attention towards NASA and worldwide headlines so that you can take a snap of the next one when it returns back to our skies. Who knows how long that will be.