Get ready to look to the skies at the end of this month for a spectacle that not many will get to live to see. The world has already had the chance to observe two supermoons in the past couple of months, with the first and second being on December 3, 2017 and January 3, 2018 respectively. The upcoming supermoon will round out the trilogy and promises to be the most impressive of the three.
Come January 31st, we’ll be able to observe a full moon at its closest possible orbiting distance to the Earth at 238,000 miles away, what scientists refer to as its perigree. In essence, this is what gives a supermoon its extraordinarily large appearance. What makes the last day of January so special is this phenomenon will be combined with one equally as special: a total lunar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon’s orbit has it land in manner that leaves it obscured from the sun by the Earth. A total lunar eclipse is exactly as the name suggests: 100 percent of the moon is blocked behind the Earth’s protection.
A once in a lifetime occurring phenomenon
A supermoon is not all that uncommon. Each year, it happens between four and six times. Similarly, a lunar eclipse is a relatively common occurrence that can happen several times a year. However, as if the two circumstances happening at once isn’t enough to impress, we will also be able to simultaneously observe something we call a “blue moon”.
Each year, there are a total of 12 full moons that occur, roughly one a month. But due to a gap between our calendar year and the lunar cycle, an extra full moon will occur every few years, bringing the total to 13. January 31st will be one such occasion where we see the rare 13th full moon.
According to experts, this is the first time we’ll see the three events coinciding in over 150 years. According to reports, there has been one occurrence of a blue moon and an eclipse in 2009; however it was only a partial lunar eclipse. For a total lunar eclipse, we’ve got to go all the way back to March 31st, 1866.
After January 31st, we’re going to have to wait until December 31st, 2028 until the next time two of these phenomenons to occur simultaneously. So when the time comes at the end of the month, it’s definitely worth the trip outside to give it a peek.
When and how to observe it
The full moon will be occurring at 13:27 GMT on January 31st. The supermoon will be at max visibility that night, however its visibility may vary depending on geographic location. Unfortunately, it will not be nearly as easy to see in parts of Western Europe as it is further east.
Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse can be observed normally with no eye protection needed. So mark your calendars and get ready for a once in a lifetime experience!