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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 and skygazers in the Tampa Bay area will be front-row center.
JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
Thin clouds waft infront of the total lunar eclipse, being called the blood red moon, with the bright blue star Spica in the constellation Virgo, which was just below the moon and to the right over Clearwater early Tuesday morning
JIM DAMASKE | Times Thin clouds waft infront of the total lunar eclipse, being called the blood red moon, with the bright blue star Spica in the constellation Virgo, which was just below the moon and to the right over Clearwater early Tuesday morning
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.

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. 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 "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.

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 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.

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

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