If you’re a South African expat living in the United States, look up into the night sky on Sunday and – if it is clear – you may witness the so-called “Super Blood Wolf Moon” total lunar eclipse, which will take a star turn across the continental US during prime time for viewing.
The total eclipse, which will begin minutes before midnight on the East Coast (0500 GMT) and just before 9 p.m. in the West, will unfold on the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday when most Americans have no school or work.
That means even the youngest astronomy buffs may get to stay up late and attend one of many watch parties that have been organised from Florida to Oregon.
The total eclipse will last for about an hour, and the best viewing is from North and South America, according to National Geographic. Partial eclipses leading up to and following the total eclipse mean the entire event will last 3.5 hours.
Total lunar eclipses occur when the moon moves into perfect alignment with the sun and earth, giving it a copper-red or “blood” appearance to those watching from below.
“Amateur astronomy clubs are throwing parties because this is what they live for – to get entire families excited about our place in the universe by seeing the mechanics of the cosmos,” said Andrew Fazekas, spokesman for Astronomers Without Borders.
In Pennsylvania, the York County Astronomical Society has invited the public to peer through its observatory’s telescopes for a close-up look. In Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory said it was anticipating “extremely large crowds,” and its website will live-stream a telescopic view of the eclipse.
COPPERY RED GLOW
A “super” moon occurs when the moon is especially close to earth, while a “wolf moon” is the traditional name for the full moon of January, when the howling of wolves was a sound that helped define winter, according to The Farmers Almanac.
In a total lunar eclipse, the moon never goes completely dark. Rather, it takes on a reddish glow from refracted light as the heavenly bodies move into position – hence the “blood moon” moniker. The more particulate or pollution in the atmosphere, the redder the moon appears.
“All of the sunrises and sunsets around the world are simultaneously cast onto the surface of the moon,” Fazekas said.
As many as 2.8 billion people may see this weekend’s eclipse from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia, according to Space.com.
While total lunar eclipses are not especially rare, the 2019 version takes place early enough in the evening that it can be enjoyed by U.S. stargazers of all ages.
As many South African photographers have already discovered, one can use a mobile phone to photograph celestial objects through a telescope so the spectacle can be shared online.
If skies are clear, the phenomenon can be seen with the naked eye and no protection is needed to safely enjoy the view, Griffith Observatory said.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien)