MYSTERY WIRE — A highlight of the stargazers’ calendar is just hours away.
At around 4:11 a.m. Pacific Time (11:11 UTC), the moon will put on a rare display.
It will become a ‘super blood moon’, appearing up to 14 percent bigger than normal and orange-red as it passes into the Earth’s shadow.
“When it’s really close, the moon seems bigger and that bigness of the moon makes it rise dramatically when it’s full, makes the moon seem special and it is special as our natural satellite,” explains Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist at NASA.
“So when that particular geometry coincides with the fact that the Earth blocks the sun on the moon and makes the moon go dark because there’s no sunlight on it directly because the earth is obscuring it, then we have this special situation with a super blood moon when all we see is the effect of multiple sunsets and sunrises on the moon as the Earth passes through the sun shadow.”
The super moon will be seen across the world.
But the blood moon will be visible – weather dependent – in the western US and Canada, Mexico, parts of Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Some other areas in the US, Canada, Russia and Asia will be able to see a partial eclipse.
Viewing times for the phenomenon will vary, depending on location.
At the Royal Observatory Greenwich, astronomer Dr Gregory Brown has been monitoring the solar system throughout his career.
He says super moons and lunar eclipses are relatively common – but getting both together makes it a bit more unusual.
“These are all happening at the same time is not incredibly uncommon. In fact, you have to have a full moon in order to have a total lunar eclipse, those two things always go hand in hand. But to have the supermoon occurring at the same time, that’s the thing that tilts into the slightly unusual part,” he says.
Although the spectacle will delight amateur stargazers, this event won’t tell professional astronomers much more than they already know.
“These things are common enough and they’ve been studied well enough and they’re all predictable enough that there isn’t a huge amount of additional science that can come from these,” says Brown.
“It is interesting to say that we can actually observe the surface of the moon when it’s dark in order to be able to see meteorites landing on its surface.”
To learn more about the moon, scientists actually need to go there.
And NASA is preparing for its Artemis program, when it plans to land the first woman and the first person of colour on the moon’s surface.
Garvin says this natural satellite still has many mysteries to reveal.
“We can use the moon as a natural control experiment, a laboratory experiment to see the solar system in action, and we’re seeing that with the action of water recorded in the lunar polar regions and the history of water and minerals and rocks, the history of the thin crust of the moon, much thinner than we thought back at the time of Apollo. So much more to learn about the moon, because we can go there ourselves, we can send our robotic emissaries,” he says.
“If we can’t figure out how to live and work and learn from the moon, how are we going to do Mars? It’s thousands of times further. It’s harder. It has an atmosphere. It has a story of a magnetic field. All these things in a formerly habitable world – that’s complicated. The moon is the perfect, perfect natural space station, if you will, of Earth to go figure it out.”
So perhaps the Artemis moon program will be another small step before mankind takes the giant leap into deep space travel to Mars.