What You Need to Know: Super Wolf Blood Moon

January’s super blood moon: The only total lunar eclipse of 2019

The first celestial event of the new year is a triple threat you won’t want to miss.

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On Jan. 20-21, we’ll get the chance to catch a total lunar eclipse, a blood moon and a supermoon. The first full moon of the year is also called a wolf moon.

The next visible total lunar eclipse won’t occur until May 26, 2021. 

For those living in parts of Europe, Africa, North or South America, the total lunar eclipse will be visible overnight from Sunday, Jan. 20 into Monday, Jan. 21. The phenomenon will be visible in its entirety in North and South America.

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“At 6:36 p.m. PST (9:36 p.m. EST) on January 20, the edge of the Moon will begin entering the penumbra,” according to the agency. “The Moon will dim very slightly for the next 57 minutes as it moves deeper into the penumbra. Because this part of Earth’s shadow is not fully dark, you may notice only some dim shading (if anything at all) on the Moon near the end of this part of the eclipse.”

NASA predicts the total eclipse duration will last about one hour and two minutes and will peak at 12:12 a.m. on Jan. 21 after the moon has made it inside the umbra, or the inner part of the Earth’s shadow. The penumbra is the outer part of Earth’s cone-shaped shadow.

Folks will also see the moon turn a deep red as it passes through the Earth’s shadow, giving it the nickname, “blood moon.”

>> Related: Photos: Supermoon brightens night sky

Those in the Middle East, Asia, Indonesia, Australia or New Zealand can catch it in the evening hours after sunset.

A view of a full moon during a 'blood moon' eclipse on July 28, 2018 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Stargazers viewed Friday's total lunar eclipse, which was the longest blood moon visible this century, until 2123.
Photo: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

What is a total lunar eclipse?

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon, according to Space.com. 

What is a blood moon?

This phenomenon occurs when “some light from the sun passes through Earth’s atmosphere and is bent toward the moon” during the totality portion of a lunar eclipse, turning the moon red- or copper-colored. 

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“The exact color that the moon appears depends on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere,” NASA scientists told Space.com. “If there are extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, the moon will appear a darker shade of red.”

Brian Murphy, director of the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium, told IndyStar that the reddish moon will be most visible between 11:40 p.m. on Jan. 20 to 12:43 a.m. Jan. 21. 

>> Related: Sun-eating demons? 7 bizarre (but brilliant) myths and superstitions about solar eclipses

What is a supermoon?

According to NASA, the moniker was coined by an astrologer in 1979 and is often used to describe a full moon happening near or at the time when the moon is at its closest point in its orbit around Earth.

Supermoons may appear as much as 14 percent closer and 30 percent brighter than the moon on an average night.

The moon’s average distance from Earth is approximately 238,000 miles.

Where are the best places to see the supermoon?

Wherever the sky is clear and the moon is visible is an ideal place from which to experience the spectacle. 

But if you’re really up to making an adventure out of it, consider heading to a state park or the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.

>> Related: Your comprehensive guide to Georgia's state parks

Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp is notorious for being one of the best spots in the world for star gazing and was named a gold-tier “International Dark Sky Park.”

You can also make your way to one of the nine best places to see stars around Atlanta.

Any of those spots would make great viewpoints for a supermoon, too. 

Note that “a variety of factors affect the appearance of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse,” according to NASA. “Clouds, dust, ash, photochemical droplets and organic material in the atmosphere can change how much light is refracted into the umbra.”

Because this is a supermoon, the moon may appear darker as it’s deeper inside the umbra shadow.

Best ways to photograph the supermoon?

According to National Geographic, seeing the supermoon near the horizon with buildings, trees or mountains for scale will make the moon appear slightly larger in your photos, even though it isn’t.

“Don’t make the mistake of photographing the moon by itself, with no reference to anything,” Bill Ingalls, a senior photographer for NASA, told National Geographic last year. “Instead, think of how to make the image creative—that means tying it into some land-based object. It can be a local landmark or anything to give your photo a sense of place.”

Other photo tips from National Geographic staff photographers:

  • Shoot with the same exposure you would in daylight on Earth.
  • Don’t leave your camera shutter open too long. This will make the moon appear too bright and you won’t be able to photograph lunar detail.
  • If you’re using your smartphone, use your optical lens only. 
  • If you’re using your smartphone, do not use your digital zoom. This will decrease the quality of your photo. Instead, take the photo and zoom or crop later.
  • Use a tripod or a solid surface to keep your phone stabilized.
  • Use your fingers to adjust the light balance and capture the lunar detail.

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