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On the horizon - rare lunar event taking place next week

Matthew Lane • Jan 27, 2018 at 9:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Fellow Earthlings, next week we’ll have a chance to witness a rare celestial event: a super blue blood moon.

Though it might sound like something out of an H.G. Wells story, a super blue blood moon is real, and it is happening on Tuesday and Wednesday. And for folks in North America, it’s the first time all three of these lunar phenomena have lined up since 1866.

Adam Thanz, the planetarium director at Bays Mountain Park, explains what’s taking place next week and what we can expect to see.

A super moon is a full or new moon when the moon is at its closest to the Earth. It happens three to four times a year and basically means the moon will appear slightly larger than normal, Thanz said.

NASA is predicting the moon will be 14 percent brighter than usual.

A blue moon occurs when there’s a second full moon within the same month. Hence the phrase “once in a blue moon,” Thanz said. Physically, there’s nothing different about the moon.

And finally we have the blood moon — a term used to describe a total lunar eclipse (when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow).

“When the moon is low on the horizon and there’s junk in the air (dust, pollution, ash), it will scatter the blue light away and let the red light through,” Thanz said. “The moon can look yellow. When there’s a lot of stuff in the air, it could look red.”

When to watch

The super blue moon will be visible the night of Jan. 30. If you want to try to see the lunar eclipse, you’ll want to go outside around 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 31. No special equipment is needed, Thanz said, though you could use a pair of binoculars if you’d like.

There’s just one hitch. Since we’re located on the East Coast, we really won’t be able to see much of the lunar eclipse, Thanz said. Folks on the West Coast will have a much better shot at seeing it.

“We really need to be elsewhere to see it,” Thanz said. “What may happen as the moon is setting ... the sky will get brighter and bluish, and the moon is going to be hard to see. It’ll get lost in the thick atmosphere.”

According to NASA, the next lunar eclipse visible in the United States will be on Jan. 21, 2019. It won’t be a blue moon, though it will be a super moon.

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