It sounds like the stuff of science fiction – a 'Super Blood Wolf Moon' total lunar eclipse.
But on Sunday night, half the Earth will be able to witness something as old as the universe – the moon passing through Earth’s shadow and going dark.
Technically, the moon passes into Earth’s outer penumbral shadow, moves into the umbra and exits the shadow to move on in its orbit.
For those not particularly familiar with Earth’s outer penumbral shadow, here is an explanation in layman’s terms:
- The moon will pass through Earth’s shadow on Sunday night causing a lunar eclipse – an eclipse of the moon.
- It will be a total lunar eclipse, meaning the moon goes dark, and it will be the only lunar eclipse in 2019.
- A lunar eclipse happens when the sun, Earth and moon line up – Earth between the sun and the moon – and Earth’s shadow blocks the sun’s light on the moon. You cannot see the moon for a period of time as it passes through Earth’s shadow.
- The eclipse will happen when Earth and the moon are the closest during the moon’s monthly orbit. It will be so close that it will be considered a “super moon. Because it is so close to Earth, it appears larger in the night sky on those days.
- It is considered a “blood moon” because the moon will appear deep orange or red as it moves into the shadow of Earth. It does that because the sunlight hitting the moon is scattered through Earth's atmosphere.
- So where does the term wolf moon comes in? The January full moon is often called the Wolf Moon.
- The origin of the name is somewhat confused, some say it is a Native American name, others link it to an Anglo-Saxon festival.
Here is the timeline for Sunday’s lunar eclipse:
What time can you see it:
- Beginning at 9:36 p.m. ET Sunday, the moon will start to enter the outer shadow of Earth, or the penumbra.
- About an hour later, at 10:33 p.m. ET, the edge of the moon will begin entering the umbra, the darkest part of Earth’s shadow.
- About an hour after that, at 11:41 p.m. ET, the moon will move fully into Earth’s shadow.
- It will begin to emerge from the shadow at 12:12 a.m. ET. That is when the moon will appear red.
- The edge of the moon leaves the umbra at 12:43 a.m. ET. The eclipse will end at 2:48 a.m. ET Monday.
Who can see it: If you live in North America, Central America, South America and Western Europe, you will be able to see the eclipse and blood moon.
What’s the best part to see: While an eclipse is magnificent in all cases, it’s best if you are in the right spot to see it, according to Fred Espenak, retired NASA astrophysicist and eclipse expert known as Mr. Eclipse. "The best part of the eclipse is during the 62 minutes of the total eclipse," Espenak said.
"The moon is then bathed in a beautiful red hue produced by sunlight filtered through Earth's atmosphere."
The best part? You can see it with the naked eye. Add binoculars or a small telescope and you can see it even better.