If there was ever a time to howl at the moon, Sunday evening might be it.
An alignment of the sun, Earth and moon is going to bring about a super blood wolf moon eclipse.
Essentially, it’s a total lunar eclipse with a couple of other elements thrown in.
“It is a big, long name for several things happening,” said Joe Bruce, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory ambassador in Spokane. “I am looking forward to it.”
There is a problem, however. The weather.
Storms blew into the Inland Northwest on Thursday bringing rain and snow. There’s another storm expected Sunday raising the possibility that the eclipse could be eclipsed by clouds.
“The chances (of seeing it) around here are looking real slim,” said Joey Clevenger, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.
But if Sunday’s weather system arrives earlier than expected and starts to leave the region sooner, there is a chance for cloud breaks to let the moon shine with the glow of reddish light passing through the atmosphere of Earth.
The Spokane Astronomical Society will be set up for viewing the eclipse at the Southeast Sports Complex, 2700 E. 46th Ave., said Nick Monkman, president of the SAS.
“Shame about the weather forecast … but you never know,” he said.
This will be the only total lunar eclipse for 2019. The Inland Northwest is well-positioned to see it, if not for the weather.
Total lunar eclipses occur only during full moons.
The eclipse involves the moon moving through the Earth’s shadow. Sunlight passing around the outer surface of the Earth is filtered by particles in the atmosphere, casting the blood moon glow of total lunar eclipses.
First contact with the Earth’s shadow is at 6:36 p.m. The partial phase of the eclipse begins at 7:33 p.m. Sunday, gradually darkening until totality is reached at 8:41 p.m. when the red glow envelopes the moon surface. The greatest eclipse is at 9:13 p.m. Totality ends at 9:43 p.m.
Over time, monthly full moons have acquired different names. The one in January is a wolf moon, a name derived from Native Americans, who heard the howling of wolves hungry for food in the dead of winter.
“Wolves come out that evening,” Bruce said.
More commonly, people know the full moon in September as the harvest moon. In October, it is the hunter’s moon.
The moon orbits around the Earth every 27.3 days in a path that is slightly elliptical, meaning it can be closer or farther from Earth throughout the month. When the full moon occurs during the moon’s closer proximity to Earth, that full moon is called a super moon because it appears slightly larger than at other times of the year. The second full moon in a month is a blue moon.
Astronomers said the super blood wolf moon eclipse may be darker than other lunar eclipses because of the closer proximity of Earth and moon.
In addition to the moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth, the path of the moon’s orbit is slightly tilted from the plane of the Earth around the sun. This accounts for the infrequent occurrences of total lunar eclipses.
“If it were a perfect plane we would have an eclipse every month,” Bruce said.
JPL’s website says Sunday’s lunar eclipse is a great opportunity for students to learn more about the alignments and interaction of sun, Earth and moon.
On Sunday, the second partial phase ends at 10:50 p.m. The last part of the eclipse ends at 11:48 p.m.
The Spokane area will see its next total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021, with totality at 4:11 a.m. It will be followed by two more in 2022.
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