Total eclipse of the snow owl moon

... or a full wolf, blood, or super moon
Fri, 01/18/2019 - 6:45am

On Sunday, Jan. 20, starting at about 10:30 p.m., Block Island and all of north and South America will be under a moon being totally eclipsed (shadowed) by earth. This particular moon may be called a blood, super moon, full wolf moon. To enjoy watching this phenomenon with others, join The Nature Conservancy at the Town Beach around a warming beach fire. The gathering will begin at 10:30 p.m. — weather permitting.

Total lunar eclipses occur a little more than twice in three years and are not visible over all of earth’s surface at any one time. Of course, there must be a clear view of the moon (not obscured by cloud cover). That means that the last time a total lunar eclipse was visible on Block Island was on September 27, 2015, and after Sunday’s sun-earth-moon alignment, the next possible observance will be in November 2022. So, it’ll be worth the effort to try to see this total eclipse of a blood (super wolf) moon, the next one will not be around for another three-and-a-half years.

When it comes to astronomy there is lots of terminology to decipher, not all of which is entirely scientific. A blood moon refers to the reddish-golden hue that the moon takes on during a total eclipse. This happens at the time that the moon’s surface is totally covered by earth’s shadow because some of the sun’s light is refracted through earth’s atmosphere and is bent so that it is reflected on the moon. It looks like the colors of sunset are focused on the face of the moon.

A super moon is simply a term used for a full (or new) moon that occurs when the moon is as close as possible to earth. At these times the moon can appear to be 14% larger than when viewed at its farthest point from Earth. This difference of the moon’s distance from Earth is because the moon’s annual orbit around earth is not centered on the Earth and is elliptical (oval, not circular). Therefore, when the moon is at its closest point (at perigee) it looks bigger than when at its farthest point (at apogee). The closer the moon is to Earth, not only does it appear greater in size, it also has a greater gravitational pull on Earth, causing greater variation in high and low tides.

There are many cultural traditions of naming the month’s full moon. (Some traditions name the month’s new moon.) These names refer to the goings-on in the natural world that envelope the naming culture. Colonial Americans called January’s full moon the winter moon, Cherokees called it cold moon, the Celts called it quiet moon, in China it is the holiday moon, in New Guinea it is the rainbow fish moon. The Algonquians and those of medieval England called January’s moon the full wolf moon. Perhaps on Block Island, January’s moons should be the full snow owl moon, and, the new quahog moon.

A moon by any other name is still the same moon. Whether in North America, Yemen, Russia, New Zealand, or on the International Space Station, we are all, on occasion, spell-bound by the same moon; and sometimes we get to see a blood, super moon eclipse from our own back yard.

Alas, at this writing the weather prediction for midnight Sunday into Monday does not portend well for a viewing: 22 degrees F., 14 to 30 percent chance of snow, 60 to 90 percent cloud cover and a north north-west wind blowing at 25 mph — brrrrrrrr! 

If this year’s total lunar eclipse can’t be viewed at the beach, it may be best viewed, while snuggled under a blanket, at Or, celebrated by going clamming this weekend, during this time of the moon at perigee.