Jessilyn Dagum, Staff Writer
On Jan. 31, the moon said goodbye to January and hello to February in the most spectacular of ways. From the evening of Jan. 31 to the morning of Feb. 1 the world was able to witness the combination of three lunar eclipses, a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen since 1866. The evening was at least partially visible in all fifty U.S. states, though the views were better the farther west you live. Thus, Washington had one of the best seats in the house for the lunar event. The “Super Blue Blood Moon,” as scientist and moon watchers everywhere are calling it, was actually three lunar eclipses happening at the same time. In short, the occurrence was a combination of a blue moon; a supermoon and a blood moon all taking place simultaneously.
You’ve heard of the saying, “Once in a blue moon,” but have you ever wondered why it referred to such a rare occasion? It’s because a “blue moon” only occurs when two full moons happen in the same calendar month. Which, contrary to the saying, isn’t as rare as you’d think. According to NASA, “blue moons occur about once every 2.7 years because the number of days in lunation (new moon to new moon) is a bit less than the usual calendar month.” On Jan. 31, not every place was able to see the blue moon because the second full moon of January didn’t technically appear in certain places until Feb. 1.
The second lunar eclipse that occurs was arguably the most rare. During the lunar tri-clipse, the moon took the form of a “super moon,” which is when the moon is especially close to Earth. This makes the moon appear larger and brighter than usual due to the fact that the moon doesn’t orbit Earth in a perfect circle and during the eclipse, there are times during the orbit that it is thousands of miles closer to Earth than others. Brian Day of NASA’s Ames Research Center reported that the moon was 223,068 miles from Earth, compared to the average distance of 238,855 miles.
Most interesting to scientists, however, is that this is all coincided with a total lunar eclipse. That’s why this is also called a blood moon, Day stated, “As the moon makes this close, full moon approach to the Earth, it’s going to pass through the Earth’s shadow and the Earth’s shadow is going to cause the moon to appear a deep red color.” Thus, Earth witnessed a Super-Blue-Blood-Moon.
From the phenomenon, NASA scientists were able to gain insight about where to land a rover for future missions based on the way the moon’s surface responded during the eclipse. The clues were found in the surface temperature changes during the event. Day explains, “The moon has dramatic temperature range – from more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 200 degrees below zero – but it changes very gradually because a lunar day is almost 28 Earth days long. So when you have a total eclipse, you get a sudden darkening of the surface…That’s interesting to us. Because different types of materials on the moon will heart up and cool down differently.”
Whether you were a scientist looking to gain insight of the moon’s surface or a photographer hoping to snap the perfect picture of the big bright red moon, you had a good chance of witnessing the event at Saint Martin’s University.