Rare "triple moon" first in 152 years: total lunar eclipse, year's last supermoon, and a blue moon

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      A rare grouping of full-moon displays occurs early Wednesday (January 31) when the Earth's satellite is situated on the opposite side of the planet from the sun.

      You can call it a "super blue blood moon", as some are, given that—because of its distance from us and the fact that its face is fully illuminated for the second time in a month and will also be, for a period, in total eclipse—it will be simultaneously what is often called a "blood moon", a "blue moon", and a "supermoon" (not to mention, somewhat boringly if correctly, a full moon).

      It will mark the first time in 152 years that this triple play will have been visible from the Americas, and no one else anywhere on Earth has seen the conjunction for 35 years.

      In Vancouver, we are almost perfectly situated, weather permitting (historical records, unfortunately, show this day cloudy about 80 percent of the time), to view the total lunar eclipse.

      The entire show, from beginning to moonset below the horizon, will start at 2:51 a.m. (Pacific time) on January 31 and last for five hours in total, until 7:51 a.m. The full eclipse, or totality, where the moon is blocked from the sun's light entirely as it passes through Earth's shadow with the sun lined up on the opposite side of the planet, will last about an hour-and-a-quarter, starting at 4:51 a.m.

      The moon usually turns a dark orange-red colour during the totality stage of the eclipse, leading to it often being called a blood moon. It will also be the second full moon of the month, which many call a blue moon (another one this year will occur on March 31; not until 2037 will there be another year with two blue moons). As well, because the moon is at "perigee"—or its point closest to Earth in its slightly irregular orbit (meaning it will appear about a third brighter than normal and almost 15 percent bigger, especially when close to the horizon)—while coinciding with the full moon, it is called a supermoon. (It will be the last such moon this year; the fact that this occurs about 24 hours earlier than the eclipse hasn't stopped skywatching enthusiasts from labelling that aspect merely a technicality in this trifecta of phenomena).

      The total lunar eclipse poses no danger to viewers, who need no special protective equipment to watch (unlike with solar eclipses). As well, because solar eclipses occur approximately two weeks after or before lunar eclipses, there will be a partial solar eclipse on February 15 (the day of the "new moon", when the moon is on the same side of our planet along with the sun). Unfortunately, this will not be visible from anywhere in the Americas other than parts of Argentina and Chile, and also Antarctica.

      If the weather is too cloudy to view the eclipse, or if your geographic location prevents you from catching the event even partially, you may watch it at space.com, which is carrying live webcasts.

      Happy mooning.