By Andrea Perng
On January 31, several areas of the world, including the western United States, had the chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon: the coinciding of a supermoon, blue moon and total lunar eclipse all at once, referred to as a super blood blue moon. The result was a stunningly red moon about 14% bigger than usual, called a perihelion, the third in a series of supermoons that occurred throughout January. California was within the path of totality for the lunar eclipse; umbra lasted from 4:51 to 6:07 AM PST, according to NASA.
As it turns out, blood moons are not always called blood moons; in its most technical definition, a blood moon refers to a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses, but many colloquially refer to a lunar eclipse as a blood moon because of the way the Earth’s atmosphere filters the light that reflects off of the moon, giving the moon a blood red appearance. The next lunar eclipse, occurring on Jan. 21, 2019, will also be a supermoon, but it will not be a blue moon.
Additionally, the term blue moon, which refers to a second full moon within a month, does not actually refer to the color of the moon, but rather, the word “blue”, a variation of the now-extinct word belewe, which means to betray, refers to how the appearance of a second full moon “betrays” the usual structure of one full moon per month.
The super blood blue moon was not only be a spectacle for stargazers, but it will also allow astronomers to learn more about the moon using thermal cameras, according to NASA. The eclipse itself would demonstrate to astronomers what would happen if the surface of the Moon cools quickly. Such a change will also help astronomers understand the mixture of soil and loose rocks on the Moon and how this mixture’s characteristics change over time.
Senior and vice president of the Astronomy Club Eric Yang says that astronomically significant events such as these can give astrophotographers a unique chance to take photographs of the sky. Yang, an astrophotographer himself, was unable to take photos of the event because it happened so early on the west coast, but expressed excitement at the super blue blood moon nonetheless.
“Special events like these, they get a lot of public attention, there’s a lot of preparation to this,” Yang said. “There are astrophotographers that take a bunch of pictures of this.”
This event is also significant because it was the first time since 1886 that a super blue blood moon had been sighted in the western hemisphere. Such a rare event warrants greater interest in astronomy, so Yang suggests that people look up astronomy news to begin their research.
“Besides that, at our club we always have astronomy news so we just talk about recent things like scientific discoveries or interesting things like what phenomena is going to happen soon,” Yang said. “There’s a lot of websites like space.com [which] is one of the bigger ones. In general, just look up astronomy news.”