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'Super blue blood moon' to occur Wednesday morning

  • The moon takes on a reddish hue during a lunar eclipse.

    The moon takes on a reddish hue during a lunar eclipse.
    Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

By Pete Spitler
updated: 1/29/2018 2:19 PM

The United States was only a year removed from the Civil War the last time a super blue blood moon occurred in 1866 and the celestial event will occur on Wednesday morning in our region.

A super blue blood moon is the rare confluence of a blue moon, a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse. A blue moon is an oddity, as it is the second full moon of the month after the first, referred to as the "wolf moon," occurred on Jan. 1.

"Lunar eclipses are cool, I think," said Bob Baer, who coordinates public astronomy events for the SIU-Carbondale Physics Department. "You will see the moon start to go from full to cresent over the course of an hour as it passes into the Earth's shadow."

When the Moon is entirely in the Earth's shadow, it will appear to change color, hence the "blood moon" nickname.

"It's called a blood moon because the color is determined by the light refracting through our atmosphere," Baer said.

Baer said one of the unique things about this event is seeing the phases of the Moon happen during the course of an hour when they would normally take weeks to see.

"Totality begins at 6:51 a.m.," Baer said. "It's an early-morning one, so you have to start watching at 5:48 a.m.

"In this area, that's most of what people are going to see from 5:48 a.m. to 6:51 a.m."

Aside from the early-morning hour, there will be another challenge for Moon watchers. Baer said the Moon - which will appear larger than normal due to being at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, hence a "supermoon" - will only be 3 degrees off the horizon at totality.

Baer said people who live in the western regions of the country will experience longer totality.

"If you have a place that's good to watch a sunset, that's the best place to watch a lunar eclipse," he said. "It will stay that orange color for another hour. The Moon's going to set and the sun starts to come up."

Baer also noted that the Moon won't be the only attraction in the sky.

"The Moon will be in the west by early morning, but Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will be in the east and Mercury prior to sunrise," he said. "If you have a small pair of binoculars, that would be best.

"A telescope is typically too zoomed in. Small ones are OK, but you almost really don't need them."

Baer noted he is also hosting a discussion on the event on the Facebook group for the Astronomical Association of Southern Illinois.