News

A Light Show in the Sky

A total lunar eclipse combined with a super moon to create a super blood moon

September 28, 2015
MATT CARDY—GETTY IMAGES

The super moon rises behind Glastonbury Tor in Somerset, England on Sunday.

Did you miss the super blood moon on Sunday night? Don’t worry! Stargazers and photographers around the world have shared images of the rare, beautiful eclipse.

People in the United States, Europe, Africa and western Asia viewed the moon on Sunday night or early Monday. The event occurred on the U.S. east coast at 10:11 p.m. ET (2:11 a.m. GMT), and lasted about an hour.

Here’s what you need to know about the cosmic event.

What is a super moon eclipse?

A super moon happens when a full moon reaches the closest point to Earth in its orbit. The orbit is not a perfect circle, so one point, called the perigee, is closest. At this point, the moon is only 225,000 miles from Earth. That’s what makes the moon look about 14% larger and 30% brighter in the sky. A full lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth, and moon line up, with Earth directly between the moon and the sun. The moon, completely in Earth’s shadow, takes on a reddish tint. A supermoon eclipse is what happens when these two events occur at the same time.

How frequently does a super moon eclipse occur?

Supermoons or lunar eclipses by themselves are not rare. But the two occur together very infrequently. Since 1900, a super moon eclipse has only happened five other times—1910, 1928, 1946, 1964, and 1982. The next one will happen in 2033.

Why did the moon look reddish?

The reddish tint was a result of light being scattered through Earth’s atmosphere and cast back toward the surface of the moon. Only light that passed through our atmosphere reached the moon. Since the planet’s gaseous blanket traps blue light, it acted like something of a filter, only reflecting the more reddish light onto the moon. That color can change based on how much dust is in the Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse.

The red hue has earned lunar eclipses the nickname Blood Moon. “You’re basically seeing all of the sunrises and sunsets across the world, all at once, being reflected off the surface of the moon,” NASA scientist Dr. Sarah Noble told the New York Times.

To view a slideshow of the super blood moon, click here.

To learn more about lunar eclipses, watch the video below.


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