First, it will be a supermoon, a moon that appears its largest to observers because its elliptical orbit is closer to Earth.
Second, it will be the second full moon in one calendar month, so it earns the familiar nickname “blue moon.” A blue moon occurs about every three years. January’s first full moon occurred Jan. 1.
But on the early morning of Jan. 31, the moon will, this blue moon will appear not blue, but literally a spectacular red instead. This is because it will be totally immersed inside Earth’s shadow, creating a total lunar eclipse low in our Western sky before dawn. It will be the blue moon total lunar eclipse of a blue moon in the U.S. since March 1866.
The eclipse will be visible from the West Coast to eastern Asia, but the best view will be in the West. Skywatchers in the Midwest and East will see only a partial eclipse because the moon will set before totality.
Here are the critical times to watch this amazing event.
At 3:51 a.m. Mountain time, the moon will begin to enter Earth’s penumbra, a partial shadow created by an incomplete alignment between sun, Earth and moon. This shadow gradually will become noticeable as the moon penetrates deeper into the penumbra.At 4:48 a.m., the fun really begins as the moon begins to enter Earth’s umbra, the dark circular shadow of Earth’s spherical shape projected by more exact alignment of sun, Earth and moon. The moon’s face then gets progressively swallowed by Earth’s dark shadow.At 5:51 a.m., the moon will be totally immersed inside Earth’s projected shadow, when it will appear to glow red. This color is created because Earth’s atmosphere appears like a circular sunset sky around its entire periphery as seen from the moon. This red ring as seen from the moon filters all shorter wavelengths of light, projecting only red light onto the moon’s surface.About 7:07 a.m., after one hour and 16 minutes, the moon begins to emerge from Earth’s dark red shadow. At 8:11 a.m., the moon entirely exits Earth’s complete shadow.At 9:08 a.m., the moon finally exits Earth’s partial shadow, concluding this entire lunar eclipse.As the moon descends toward our western horizon during totality, dawn will break in the east as the sun rises from that direction. We may be able to see the entire total phase of the eclipse before the moon disappears below our western horizon. The interplay of dawn’s increasing light with the moon’s visage promises to display a complex array of colors.
Cameras, ready. Cellphones, ready. Most important of all, eyeballs ready. Enjoy!
James Andrus of Cortez is a local weather watcher for the National Weather Service.