The most dramatic lunar event of 2021 is upon us.
Tuesday night brings the moon’s only total eclipse of the year — and it’s a good night for the occasion, as our celestial standby reaches one of its closest points to Earth, otherwise known as a super moon.
What is a ‘super flower blood moon’ lunar eclipse?
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the eclipse part.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow, blocking the sun from illuminating it. Depending on its orbit, the moon seems to partially or fully disappear from the night sky for several minutes before moving back into the sun’s light.
But there’s also a so-called “super moon” happening. Astronomers and skywatchers have disagreed somewhat on the true definition of a super moon. Just how close the moon should be to Earth to qualify as a super moon depends on who you ask — but, generally, it refers to the times in which a full moon is at its closest point to Earth, called perigee, making it appear even bigger and brighter than most full moons.
The reference to blood may sound macabre, but it refers to the brick-red hue the moon may take on due to an optical illusion caused by Earth’s atmosphere. Before the sun and moon are in direct opposition, sunlight that normally reflects directly off the lunar surface will instead pass through Earth’s atmosphere, which filters out the blues of the UV spectrum so that only the reds and oranges remain — hence the reddish gradient effect. It’s the same mechanism that gives sunsets and sunrises their gorgeous colors, according to Space.com’s interview with Jackie Faherty, a lead astronomer and astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History.
Finally, there’s the “floral” aspect, which is simply a nickname given to the full moon that occurs in May, a month that early skywatchers — namely the Algonquin peoples of North America, according to the Farmer’s Almanac — associated with the new blooms of spring.
When is the super flower blood moon lunar eclipse?
The eclipse occurs in the morning or evening of Wednesday, May 26, depending on your global positioning, and is most visible for those in western North America, southern and far-western South America, the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia. By Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), a neutral time-zone used by astronomers, the process begins at 08:47 UTC (4:47 a.m. EDT), with the moon approaching Earth’s shadow around 9:45 UTC (5:45 a.m. EDT). The point at which the moon is completely engulfed by Earth’s shadow, called totality, occurs at 11:16 UTC (7:16 a.m. EDT), and will remain in darkness for approximately 14 minutes and 30 seconds. In other lunar eclipses, totality is known to last upwards of 100 minutes, or as few as seconds.
Will the super flower blood moon lunar eclipse be visible anywhere?
Sadly, no, as half of our planet will have already entered daylight, according to a handy map available from TimeAndDay.com. It’s regions of the Pacific that get the best view, especially South Asia, Australia and Oceania, Hawaii and Antarctica (if you happen to be aiding research down that way). West and midwestern North America, Central America and the southern tip of South America will witness some degree of totality, while those in the southern and central US, Canada and South America may get to peep a partial eclipse, although the rising sun will soon obscure the moon altogether. However, the odds of catching any part of the eclipse is marginal for the northeastern US and Canada — as well as the eastern half of Brazil, South America and other Atlantic coastal nations, plus the East Coast of the US and Canada. Meanwhile, Russia, Europe and Africa will miss out completely on this year’s show.
When is the next lunar eclipse?
Indeed, the other half of the planet will have to wait for the next total lunar eclipse — on May 16, 2022 — when most of North and South America, plus parts of Europe, Africa and western Russia, will be able to take part in the spectacle.
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