Hey Diddle Diddle—The Moon’s Playing Tricks in the Sky

Oh, my little eyes can’t wait to see such sights!

Coming into the New Year, I knew there was to be a super moon, but I did not know about the second full—blue—moon and total lunar eclipse until a friend googled the New Year’s Super Full Moon. The news prompted me to look up more about the moon’s crazy lunar antics for myself. Here’s what I found out:

The Moon is seen as is rises, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) from https://moon.nasa.gov/resources/149/?category=images
The Moon is seen as is rises, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) from https://moon.nasa.gov/resources/149/?category=images
  • January 2, 2018 — Full Moon/Super Moon/Wolf Moon

Most of us are familiar with a Full Moon—when the moon’s surface is lit by the light of the Sun so that its entire roundish outline is visible in the night sky, but the definition of a Super Moon is a little trickier to pin down.

First of all, the label “supermoon” is not actually a real astronomical name, but rather a term the astrologer Richard Nolle coined to describe when “the Moon is at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in its orbit.”

Basically, it means that the moon is much closer to the earth than it normally is so that it appears a lot larger in the sky—which is more noticeable the closer the moon is to the horizon, where it can be viewed in relation to other objects. (And FYI, a “micromoon” is exactly the opposite—when the moon is much farther away from the Earth than it usually is.)

…To top things off, the first full moon of the year is named the Wolf Moon, so this was also a Wolf Moon.

I did manage to see the January 2nd Super Full Wolf Moon, but no worries if you didn’t because the one at the end of the month will be almost as large.

August 2009 Perseid Meteor Shower by NASA/JPL from https://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/perseid-meteor-shower-aug11-12.html
August 2009 Perseid Meteor Shower by NASA/JPL from https://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/perseid-meteor-shower-aug11-12.html
  • January 3, 2018 — Quadrantids Meteor Shower

Okay, this really doesn’t have anything to do with the moon, but when I found out meteors were also going to light up the night sky about the same time as the Super Moon, I couldn’t help but get excited. On the bummer side, the fact that they peaked so close to that Super Full Moon on January 2nd means they weren’t very visible in the night sky. But, I also learned the Quadrantids are visible in the northern hemisphere every single year at the beginning of January, so there’s always next year to look forward to.

In case you’re curious, the Quadrantids meteor shower is named after a former constellation—Quadrans Muralis—with a radiant point (the point where the meteors seem to be coming from) between the handle of the Big Dipper and the dragon’s head in the constellation Draco.

I’m sure you all know comet dust causes meteor showers, but until now I’ve never stopped to consider that as the Earth rotates around the Sun, it will pass through these trails of dust and debris every year—same Bat time, same Bat channel… A New York Times article also alerted me to other meteor showers occurring throughout the year, so now I can plan to watch for others. (Preferably when it’s not quite as chilly outside!)

  • Phases of the Moon
    • January 8, 2018 — Last Quarter Moon
    • January 17, 2018 — New Moon
    • January 24, 2018 — First Quarter Moon

Just to refresh how the moon normally acts…

Think of things starting out each month with a New Moon—when the position of the moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun so that the lit side is facing away from the Earth and none of the moon’s surface is visible in the night sky—that’s our starting point. From the New Moon, it can only grow in size, which is what “waxing” describes, and “crescent” means it is less than half, so the moon will wax crescent until it reaches the First Quarter Moon (a.k.a. Half Moon).

The moon will then continue to wax, but since it is now more than half visible in the nighttime sky, it is now considered to be “gibbous”. After the First Quarter Moon, it will wax gibbous until it reaches Full Moon status. From there, it will grow smaller in the night sky—what the term “waning” means. Hence, now the Full Moon will wane gibbous down to Last Quarter (a.k.a. Half Moon) or Third Quarter Moon status. Less than a quarter (or half) is once again crescent, so that the moon will now wane crescent until it once again reaches New Moon status.

Then, the whole process will start all over again.

Total Lunar Eclipse by Dan19878 from https://pixabay.com/en/lunar-eclipse-moon-lunar-eclipse-1594388/
Total Lunar Eclipse by Dan19878 from https://pixabay.com/en/lunar-eclipse-moon-lunar-eclipse-1594388/
  • January 31, 2018 — Full Moon, Blue Moon, Blood Moon, (almost a Super Moon), and Total Eclipse of the Moon

This is the day the cow might have to do some flips to get around the moon. Once I started looking it all up, I found so many different things going on with January 31st that I can hardly keep up.

First, January 31, 2018 will be a Full Moon (described above).

Second, the January 31st Full Moon will also be considered a Blue Moon because it is the second full moon to occur within the same month—the first one being that January 2nd Super Full Moon.

Third, this moon also qualifies as a Blood Moon because the total lunar eclipse will color it red. Technically, the Full Moon will be in the Earth’s shadow (lunar eclipse), but will still receive some light filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere; however, that indirect light will make the surface of the moon appear red. Thus the term Blood Moon.

Fourth—Sorry, but according to timeanddate.com’s definition, the January 31st Full Blue Blood Moon doesn’t quite make the Super Moon cut. It will miss the perigee (closest approach) distance by one day.

Fifth, this is what you’re really waiting for—a total eclipse of the moon! Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth is directly between the Sun and the Moon, so that the Earth’s shadow is cast upon the surface of the Moon. If you happen to be in Asia, Australia, the Pacific, or the western part of North America, you’ll be able to see it for yourself. And if you miss it, you’ll have to wait until July 27th (and make sure to be in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Australia) to see another one. If you’re like me—located in North America—you’ll have to wait even longer—until January 21, 2019 for the chance to see another total lunar eclipse.

Happy New Year’s 2018 by Gellinger from https://pixabay.com/en/emotions-new-year-s-day-2975395/
Happy New Year’s 2018 by Gellinger from https://pixabay.com/en/emotions-new-year-s-day-2975395/

Enjoy the nighttime sights and have yourself a Happy New Year! 🙂

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