Get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime-(and-a-half) experience: Not only will there be a second blue moon of the month on January 31, but it will also be a super moon — one that appears 6 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than a normal full moon, because the moon will be at the closest point in its orbit to Earth. The next super blue moon won't be until next January.
And this super blue moon will coincide with a lunar eclipse, giving the moon a reddish color while it's in the earth's shadow, making it also a blood moon. That means that tomorrow's display is actually a Super Blue Blood Moon. The last time the Western hemisphere saw one of these was in 1866.
"For the first time in 150 years, this eclipse is of a ‘blue moon,’ which is the name given to the second full moon to occur in the same calendar month,” explains Andy Caldwell, astronomy and geology professor at Front Range Community College. “The moon won’t actually be blue, and the origin of the name is a bit of a mystery. However, a blue moon occurs roughly every two and half years, hence the phrase ‘once in a blue moon.'”
The eclipse will begin just before 4 a.m. local time in Colorado, and will be visible on the western horizon over the Rocky Mountains, according to Paul Haynes, assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado. "Over the course of about two hours, the moon will go from bright gold to red and then inky gray-black, as the eclipse peaks about 6:30 a.m. local time." By then, if you're in the foothills along the Front Range, the moon will have disappeared behind the mountains...which makes a good argument for heading east for better viewing. The eclipse will end at 7:07 a.m. and then officially set about seven minutes later.
Along the way, you could see some amazing sights. "As the moon passes into earth’s shadow, the sunlight refracted through our atmosphere creates a warm reddish hue on the lunar surface. It’s similar to the colors of a sunset, because we are seeing the effect of our atmosphere filtering out the blue light and letting the red light pass through," Haynes notes. "During this time when the moon is fully in earth’s shadow, the lunar surface cools by more than a hundred degrees. We use this temperature plunge to measure the density of the moon’s surface materials from the observatory on Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii."
Can't make it to Hawaii? Here are four places to watch the lunar eclipse:
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4. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Sadly, the facility won't be open, but since you need a clear view to the north/northwest to catch the eclipse, the west steps of the museum should do nicely.
3. Sunlight Peak Observatory. The observatory on the Larimer campus of Front Range Community College, at Harmony Road and Shields Street in Fort Collins, will be open from 4:45 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
2. Barr Lake State Park. The state park, at 13401 Picadilly Road in Brighton, will open at 5 a.m., and there should be good viewing of the eclipse from the boat ramp.
1. Your bed. NASA will be live-streaming this super-duper sight starting around 3:30 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.