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What the heck is a Super Blood Wolf Moon and how can I see it?

It’s a rare celestial event that skygazers in the Tampa Bay area will be front-row center for Sunday night.
A "blood moon" as seen during a lunar eclipse over Ruskin in April 2015.  JASON BEHNKEN | STAFF
A "blood moon" as seen during a lunar eclipse over Ruskin in April 2015. JASON BEHNKEN | STAFF
Published Jan. 17, 2019

Break out the lawn chairs and cue up the Bonnie Tyler. Sunday night, skygazers in the Tampa Bay area will be front-row center for the first total eclipse of the moon in nearly three years.

A lunar eclipse dips down behind the Wheeler Town Clock in Manitou Springs, Colo. early Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. The moon appears orange or red, the result of sunlight scattering off Earth's atmosphere. This is known as the blood moon. [Associated Press]
A lunar eclipse dips down behind the Wheeler Town Clock in Manitou Springs, Colo. early Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. The moon appears orange or red, the result of sunlight scattering off Earth's atmosphere. This is known as the blood moon. [Associated Press]

Comprehensively dubbed the Super Blood Wolf Moon, Sunday’s eclipse is a rare trifecta of awesome astronomical phenomenon and not, as some might think, the title to an ‘80s power metal album or the final boss of your Dungeons & Dragons quest.

Viewers in the region should get a clear look at the eclipse as it begins around 10:30 p.m. All you have to do is go outside and look up. Totality is expected to start a little over an hour later, around 11:43 p.m., and hold for an hour. The eclipse will conclude just before 2 a.m.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment. As the moon passes behind Earth, Earth blocks the sun’s light and completely covers the moon in its shadow. It’s the most intense of the three types of lunar eclipses — total, partial and penumbral.

Total lunar eclipses offer some interesting perspective, astronomers say.

“During totality, which will last 62 minutes, the moon will appear to glow like an eerie ball — which to the eye, and especially in binoculars and small telescopes — will appear almost three dimensional,” Joe Rao, an instructor at New York’s Hayden Planetarium, wrote in a Space.com column.

What’s in a name?

Super Blood Wolf Moon sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s also better than big-red-moon-in January-covered-by-shadow, which is basically what all that means.

The super part comes from the moon’s position in orbit in relation to the earth. During a supermoon, a full moon passes within 90 percent of perigee, the point in its orbit when it is closest to Earth, and appears a bit larger than normal. Hence, the “Super” portion of the moniker. Supermoons usually happen 3-4 times a year.

The Super Moon eclipse on Sept. 28, 2015 as seen from Avon, Conn. The "Super Moon" refers to a full moon that occurs when the moon is the closest distance to the earth. The last supermoon/lunar eclipse occurred in 1982. [Associated Press]
The Super Moon eclipse on Sept. 28, 2015 as seen from Avon, Conn. The "Super Moon" refers to a full moon that occurs when the moon is the closest distance to the earth. The last supermoon/lunar eclipse occurred in 1982. [Associated Press]

The “Blood” part comes from the way the sun’s light passes through Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse. As the light passes through the atmosphere it gets bent toward the moon. Most colors on the spectrum are blocked, but red usually makes it through, effectively projecting all of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets onto the moon’s surface like a celestial cinema. While the reddish-coppery color is common, it’s not a guarantee Rao said, as it depends on atmospheric conditions at the time.

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The “Wolf” portion of the name is a little less scientific and uniquely American. Full moons were traditionally given names by Native American tribes to keep track of seasons. January’s full moon was referred to as the Wolf Moon.

Hence, the Super Blood Wolf Moon.

Baby it’s cold outside

The moon rises the evening of January 30th, 2018 along the St. Petersburg waterfront. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
The moon rises the evening of January 30th, 2018 along the St. Petersburg waterfront. JIM DAMASKE | Times

The Super Blood Wolf Moon will be cool to watch literally and figuratively. If you decide to head out, look up and check it out, make sure to dress warm. A cold front is expected to pass through the region Sunday, which will drop an arctic chill into the area, quickly plunging overnight temperatures into the 40s during the eclipse.

Enjoy it. NASA says the next total lunar eclipse won't be until May 26, 2021.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.