The first eclipse of 2018 will be a lunar one that will arrive on Wednesday morning, January 31st. It will be a total lunar eclipse and, interestingly, it will involve the second full Moon of the month, which is popularly referred to as a “Blue Moon.” But no, the Moon will not be blue in color.
What Is A Lunar Eclipse?
Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth passes between the Sun and Moon, and lines up precisely so that it blocks the Sun’s light, which otherwise reflects off the Moon. There are three types of lunar eclipses: total, partial and penumbral, with the most dramatic being a total lunar eclipse — when the Earth’s shadow totally covers the Moon. A lunar eclipse can occur only when there is a full Moon.
The Pacific Ocean is turned toward the Moon when this eclipse takes place; which will be more or less during the middle of the night. Those west of the Pacific Ocean — central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand, and most of Australia — will have a fine view of this Moon show in the evening sky. Heading farther west into western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, the eclipse will already be underway as the Moon rises.
Those east of the Pacific Ocean, Alaska, and northwestern Canada will see the eclipse from start to finish (as does Hawaii) — between midnight and dawn — while for the rest of North and Central America, unfortunately, moonset will intervene.
Will The Blue Moon Turn Red?
While a “Blue Moon” won’t officially be blue in color, it may turn red! Before the eclipse, take a look at the sunset the evening before. The light that reaches our eyes has been reddened by thousands of miles of sloping descent through our atmosphere. The full Moon is diametrically opposite to the Sun in the sky, so when you face the setting Sun, the rising Moon is behind you.
This red light is bent (or “refracted”) by our atmosphere into the shadow of Earth and always falls onto the Moon at the full phase, but it is so faint that we don’t notice it. However, when the Moon moves into total eclipse, that red light suddenly becomes the Moon’s only illumination. And that’s the reason that the Moon usually appears to light up like a red or coppery ball at and near the total phase of the eclipse.
Will This Blue Moon Also Be A Supermoon?
It depends on who you ask. The January 31st Moon officially turns full at 8:27 a.m. EST, but reaches its closest point to Earth in its orbit, called perigee, the day before, on January 30th at 5:05 a.m. EST. Most astronomers agree that a full Moon reaches supermoon status when it more directly coincides with perigee, such as the January 1 full Moon.
Lunar Eclipse Time Tables
Below we provide a timetable for the main stages of the Moon’s passage through the Earth’s shadow for six time zones: one for Hawaii (HST), one for Alaska (AKST) and four across the U.S and Canada: Pacific (PST), Mountain (MST), Central (CST) and Eastern (EST). All times are a.m.:
|Partial Eclipse begins||1:48||2:48||3:48||4:48||5:48||6:48|
|Total eclipse begins||2:51||3:51||4:51||5:51||6:51||—-|
|Total eclipse ends||4:08||5:08||6:08||7:08||—-||—-|
|Partial eclipse ends||5:12||6:12||7:12||—-||—-||—-|
Along the West Coast the total phase begins at 4:51 a.m. PST. The farther east you go, the closer the start of the partial phases will coincide with moonrise. Along the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, for instance, the Moon will have only just begun to enter the Earth’s umbra (at 6:48 a.m. EST) when it will disappear from view below the west-northwest horizon.
Putting it another way, if you live anywhere to the east of a line running from Flint, Michigan, south-southwest to New Orleans, Louisiana, the Moon will set before the eclipse becomes total. Instead, viewers will see the Moon set while in partial eclipse. The farther east you go, the smaller the percentage of the eclipse.
Below we provide a second timetable, which gives the time of moonset for 10 selected cities and how much of the Moon’s diameter will be eclipsed by the Earth’s dark shadow (called the umbra) at that moment. All times are for the Eastern time zone.
|Boston, MA||6:58 a.m.||16|
|Lewiston, ME||6:59 a.m.||17|
|Miami, FL||7:04 a.m.||25|
|New York, NY||7:06 a.m.||29|
|Washington, DC||7:15 a.m.||43|
|Pittsburgh, PA||7:31 a.m.||68|
|Atlanta, GA||7:35 a.m.||75|
|Chattanooga, TN||7:41 a.m.||84|
|Cincinnati, OH||7:46 a.m.||92|
|Louisville, KY||7:50 a.m.||98|
The duration of the total phase is 77 minutes with the Moon tracking through the southern part of the Earth’s shadow. So during totality, the Moon’s lower limb will appear brightest; its upper limb darkest.
Finally, don’t worry about doing damage to your eyes. This is a lunar eclipse, not a solar eclipse like we experienced last August. So unlike the precautions you had to make for safely viewing last summer’s solar spectacle, there will be absolutely no risk to your eyesight for this shady little drama at month’s end. Enjoy!