The month of January 2018 has been filled with lunacy as it began with a Full Moon and ends with a full, eclipsing Blue Moon, and that’s a good thing to keep us looking up.
And in a rare event, February is full moonless, while the Blue Moon phenomenon repeats itself in March!
The celestial orb that always turns heads is the astronomy darling of cold January with two full phases and a lunar eclipse turning the Moon to a shade of red for everyone west of the Mississippi River.
The New Year’s Day “Howling Wolf” Full Moon and the “Ice Moon” on Jan. 31 are both super close to Earth, making them “Super Moons.”
Though not official lingo of astronomers, the phrases Blue Moon, Super Moon and Blood Moon are all media concoctions that weren’t in the stargazing vernacular until twenty years ago or so. And that’s a good thing—anything to get people to look up at the night sky!
The two Full Moons in January—on the 1st at 9:24 pm EST and 31st at 8:26—makes the second one the “Blue Moon.” The rare event happens about once every two and one-half years, hence the popular phrase “once in a Blue Moon.”
There will be no Full Moon in February! With the Moon taking 29.5 days between full phases, obviously the 31-day months are the only months having the event. This occurrence happens once every 19 years. The last time February didn’t have a Full Moon was in 1999, and the time before that was 1980; the next time there will be no Full Moon in February will be 2037.
Native Americans gave names to the full phase Moons, so important was the light to their lives and safety. That made Jan. 1 the Wolf Moon, and the 31st the Hunger Moon, symbolic of the animals looking for food and finding very little. The two March Full Moons will be the Worm Moon or Crow Moon on the 1st, and the Sap Moon on the 31st. To Native Americans, our world is coming alive in March as the ground softens and the trees begin to awake.
Both Full Moons of January are at the closest point of its slightly oval orbit around the Earth. That’s called perigee, and the farthest distance of an object from its orbital companion is apogee. Hence, they are “Super Moons,” appearing an unnoticeable 14 per cent larger, but noticeably 30 per cent or more brighter. That lunar orbit around Earth will be at the approximate 234,000 minimum (perigee) distance between the worlds, while the farthest point, apogee, is approximately 253,000 miles.
Photographers can get some dramatic images by capturing the Moon the two days before full phase when the landscape is still illuminated.
Some photo tips include: use a telephoto lens or camera zoom, put the camera on a tripod; use 400 ISO and the exposure will be around 250th of a second to reveal the dark maria; use a self timer to eliminate any camera shake; the challenge is balancing the exposure of the landscape with the dark areas of the Moon. What good is a moonrise that looks like a flashlight? A good rising Moon landscape has the lunar surface dark areas easily seen.
The fun part of lunar photography is finding a site that is near buildings, trees or mountains. You can also juxtapose people holding the Moon, holding it like a balloon or other clever poses. Look up some moon rise images on the Internet to get ideas—I think you’ll be amazed at all the effort photographers go through to get an incredible image.
If that’s not enough lunacy this month, there is a Total Eclipse of the Moon to end January. The Blue, Super Full Moon of Jan. 31st will pass into the Earth’s shadow the early morning hours. The East Coast will see the Moon setting in the morning twilight as the eclipse begins, but west of the Mississippi River the entire eclipse will be seen spectacularly against the morning twilight.
Unlike last July’s Solar Eclipse that was seen partially around America for an hour with a narrow path of totality lasting less than 3 minutes, when the Moon slips behind the Earth’s huge shadow cast into space, the entire eclipse lasts more than four hours. And one hour, 16 minutes of the eclipse will be total—the bright, Full Moon being rendered dim in various reddish hues.
The partial phase starts at 6:48 am on the East Coast of the U.S., just a half-hour or so before the Moon sets. But farther west, the predawn sky will be beautiful with the sight of the Full Moon turning into a crescent as it orbits through the shadow of our planet.
From 4:51 am to 6:07 am on America’s West Coast the Moon will be immersed in the dark shadow of Earth, turning to a reddish hue that can range from blood to orange—all depending on the particles in Earth’s atmosphere creating the color.
No doubt that social media will be filled with terrific images of the Super, Blue, Blood Red Lunar Eclipse. And good luck with your moon photography.
Super Moons, Eclipsing Moon…makes one want to grab an ice cold Blue Moon beer, kick back…and keep looking up!