On Sunday May 15 and into Monday, 16, 2022 a long total lunar eclipse—a “Blood Moon”—will be visible across North America.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to ask about this major celestial event:
What is a ‘Blood Moon’ eclipse?
It’s a total lunar eclipse, which occurs when the Earth gets precisely between the Sun and a full Moon. During the event the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow and turns a reddish color for anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours.
Are ‘Blood Moon’ lunar eclipses dangerous?
Is it safe to look at a lunar eclipse? Yes, it is absolutely safe at all times. Eclipse glasses are strictly for solar eclipses! According to NASA all the phases of a lunar eclipse are safe to view, both with your naked eye and through an unfiltered telescope. Observing a total lunar eclipse is no different to looking at the Moon at any other time. It’s arguably even safer because a regular full Moon can give off a lot of glare. Not so a “Blood Moon,” which will likely appear a very dark reddish color on May 15/16, 2022.
Why do we get a ‘Blood Moon?’
During a total lunar eclipse no direct sunlight gets to the lunar surface. The only light that gets through to the Moon’s surface is first filtered by Earth’s atmosphere.
In effect all of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets are projected onto the lunar surface at once. For a whopping 1 hour 24 minutes the Moon will be draped in the same reddish, orangey light that you can see just before sunset here on Earth.
Why is a ‘Blood Moon’ red
A totally eclipsed Moon is actually a reddish, orange and/or copper color—not red!
During the Moon’s long journey through Earth’s shadow on the only light that will reach the lunar surface will first have been filtered through Earth’s atmosphere. The physics is the same as for a sunset or sunrise. Short-wavelength blue light from the Sun hits molecules in Earth’s atmosphere and scatters, but longer-wavelength red and orange light mostly travels right through, striking fewer molecules. So the dominant color of light we’ll see on the Moon for that short time will be red …ish.
In fact, during a lunar eclipse the effect is like thousands of sunrises and sunsets being projected onto the lunar surface.
Is this ‘Blood Moon’ also a supermoon?
Technically, yes, but it’s not going to make any difference to how anyone experiences it. The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is egg-shaped, so during any month it reaches a point where it’s farthest away (apogee) and closest (perigee). When a full Moon falls on or near the date of perigee it can be called a supermoon” and to qualify for that status it has to be “within 90% of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit” according to astronomer Fred Espenak’s definition.
The full “Flower Moon” will be 225,015 miles/362,127 km from Earth on May 16, 2022, so it’s technically a “supermoon,” though the full Moons of June, July and August 2022 are actually closer. The supermoon of July 13 will be the closest supermoon for 2022.
Why is is called a ‘Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse?’
The “super” is explained above, but the “flower” comes from the fact that May’s full Moon is sometimes called the “Flower Moon.”
What will happen during the ‘Blood Moon’ eclipse?
A total lunar eclipse is really three eclipses in one—and it happens in five acts. The event begins when the full Moon enters the Earth’s outer shadow—its penumbra (a penumbral lunar eclipse). It then begins to enter Earth’s inner shadow—its umbra—and as it does so it begins to turn red (a partial lunar eclipse). Once the whole of the Moon is inside the umbra that’s totality—the Moon will have turned 100% red.
After 84 spectacular minutes of totality the entire event will go into reverse, with the Moon exiting the umbra, then the penumbra.
What is an ‘eclipse season?’
Every 173 days, for between 31 and 37 days, the Moon is lined-up perfectly to intersect the ecliptic—the apparent path of the Sun through our daytime sky and the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The result, of course, is a short season during which two—and occasionally three—solar and lunar eclipses can occur each two weeks apart.
Disclaimed: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.