A super blue blood moon

I haven’t made a solid study, but it seems to me that long range forecasts are getting a bit more reliable with all of the new tools that meteorologists have at hand. I’ve always had an eye on the weather. When I was growing up, Federal Aviation Administration service centers were the place to go for the most accurate weather information. They were very skilled at observations of current weather conditions. They used balloons to determine winds aloft and the information form several different stations gave a pretty good picture of the overall weather pattern. In those days, before doppler radar, there was a fair amount of guesswork involved in predicting the weather for a specific location, but forecasts of general patterns were pretty good. Being an aviation family, we made decisions about when to travel based on the information from the flight service stations. When a big trip came up, conditions were watched carefully for as long as possible to have a picture of the patterns of weather across the nation.

These days, I can call up a fairly accurate forecast on my computer and with tools readily available at no cost, I can look at radar and enhanced radar to see actual cloud patterns and get a sense of storm tracks. Still, long-range forecasting involves quite a bit of uncertain information and are subject to change.

All of that makes me a bit reluctant to make predictions, but it does look fairly promising that we will have clear skies on Wednesday night. I’m hoping for it. The sky should be putting on a really good show and we’re in a good place to watch it. All we need is cloudless skies. The forecast calls for wind, which helps to clear out the clouds and fairly cool temperatures - it should get down in the mid teens overnight. Cool and clear is how we want it.

A night like Wednesday comes around once in a blue moon as they say, but to say that wouldn’t be accurate, because it is truly a once in a lifetime lineup of events.

But it will be a blue moon. A blue moon is what happens when there is a second full moon in the same month. Because the cycle of the moon is a bit less than the length of a month, it is technically possible for it to happen, but for it to occur, the full moon has to line up with the first few days of the month. It is the second full moon in a month that is called the blue moon. It happen on average about once every 2.7 years. A blue moon doesn’t actually appear to be blue in color. The moon can appear to be different colors, and blue is one of the colors that it can assume, but a blue appearance is caused by smoke or ash in the atmosphere, most commonly from large fires or volcanic eruptions. Despite a seemingly unending fire season in the hills this winter, it probably won’t be smoky on Wednesday night when we are out looking at the moon.

The blue moon on Wednesday will likely look red, if you happen to be looking at it at the right time. Red is the color that the moon appears as the earth’s shadow begins to fall on it from our perspective. As the moon begins to be eclipsed, it glows red instead of its usual more yellow or white color. Now technically, our best shot at the most red color comes early in the morning on Wednesday, not in the evening. The red color is caused by the eclipse, which reaches full at 5:51 a.m. Wednesday morning. Partial eclipse will begin at 4:48 am and continue to 7:07, with moon set at 7:15. That makes the timing good for me to see it because it is a time when I am generally awake, but my location isn’t the best as the hills rise to the west of my home and there are a lot of trees that prevent a full viewing of the moonset. I may need to be prepared to get in the car and drive a bit for the full effect.

And that would be enough a red-blue moon, an eclipse and a second full moon of the month all at once, but it is even better than that. It is also time of a supermoon. A supermoon occurs when the moon is at the point in its orbit when it is closest to the earth, thus making it appear to be bigger than normal. Supermoons are not that uncommon. There are 4 - 6 supermoons on average each year.

What makes this Wednesday so unusual - in fact a once in a lifetime experience is the occurrence of all of these things at the same time: a blue moon, a supermoon and an eclipse. That particular lineup occurs only once in every 150 years on average.

Some people are calling it the super blue blood moon. A blue moon that looks red.

Of course when we are considering human traditions and ways of talking about the movement of the earth and moon, it is never simple. People have noticed the moon for as long as there have been people and many traditions have grown up around how we speak of the moon. Not all of them are consistent with others. So, to be fair, there is another way of determining a blue moon. In addition to the appearance of color and the number of full moons in a month, there is an older way of identifying a blue moon: the third full moon in a season in which there are four moons, which happens every 2.7 years. We only will have three full moons during winter this year, so Wednesday isn’t a blue moon by this definition. Maybe it is only a super blood moon.

Still, I’m going to look for the super blue blood moon. It should be dramatic and worth a little effort to see the phenomenon.

Keep looking up. The sky is sure to surprise you.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!