When to see the lunar eclipse and what exactly is a ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon’

NASA - Understanding Lunar Eclipses

What can cause a full Moon to darken, then glow red? A lunar eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow.
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What can cause a full Moon to darken, then glow red? A lunar eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow.

The name sounds like a celestial phenomenon worshiped by pagans. The “Super Blood Wolf Moon.”

Actually, that’s a jumble of words for a regular lunar eclipse that happens in January, though the moon shadowing is something of a “super” happening because of a specific astronomical happening.

The lunar eclipse begins around 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 20, according to The eclipse reaches totality around 11:41 p.m. and continues past midnight. The South Carolina State Museum is holding an event for the occasion. In Chapel Hill, N.C., the Morehead Planetarium is hosting a free viewing on the outside sundial from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., weather permitting.

Here’s why come call this lunar eclipse the “Super Blood Wolf Moon.”

The “super” part refers to the fact that the upcoming lunar eclipse occurs during a supermoon. National Geographic says a supermoon is an astronomical phenomenon in which there’s a full moon “on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun (a state called syzygy), and at its closest point to the planet (a state called perigee).”

Scientist refer to the supermoon as a perigee-syzygy moon, National Geographic says. During this state the moon can appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than when the moon is furthest from earth.

The “blood” part of the term that’s going around describes the red tint the moon takes on during a lunar eclipse.

The red color comes from the way light from the Sun travels through Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to refract. Essentially, when the light from the Sun hits the Earth, the light splits into a rainbow similar to how light comes through a prism. Only the red part of the refracted sunlight hits the moon during a lunar eclipse.

The “wolf” reference comes from the term for a full moon in January, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Algonquin Native Americans used the name Wolf Moon for the moon that happened in the first month of Western calendar.

“This full Moon appeared when wolves howled in hunger outside the villages. It is also known as the Old Moon,” The Old Farmer’s Almanac says.

The next total lunar eclipse able to be seen from the Americas happens in 2021, according to NASA.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured video of a double solar eclipse from space. SDO caught both Earth and the moon passing in front of the sun on the morning of Sept. 1, 2016.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.