STORY BY NATALIE LARIMER
Last Sunday, the world stopped for just a moment and looked up.
For the first time since 1982, the moon happened to align with the sun and the Earth, creating a rare “Supermoon” lunar eclipse.
“A lunar eclipse is when the moon passes in the shadow of the Earth,” sophomore astronomy major Katrina Sletten said. “It’s like your everyday shadow happening on the moon. What’s cool about it though is the moon turns like a red color. They actually call it a ‘Blood Moon’, I think that’s what the Mayans called it as well.”
The super blood moon is the result of a lot of happy circumstance. For instance, the moon happened to be closest to the Earth during the eclipse, causing it to appear larger and brighter in the sky than normal. It also passed through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, allowing a total eclipse and turning the moon the deep red color that everyone got to enjoy.
“It would be blanked out,” astronomy lab assistant Lauren Breman said, “except we have this big sun back here shooting light at us and we have an atmosphere that filters out the short wavelengths of light and that allows the long wavelengths to turn the moon in the deepest part of totality a beautiful, deep-reddish coppery orange. That’s what happens in a total eclipse.”
Many students watched the eclipse from Helmick Commons, but some took advantage of the Drake Observatory, which was open from 7:30 to 11 p.m. that night. At the top, there were telescopes where it was possible to see the moon in a lot more detail than with the naked eye.
“At the observatory, people can come out for free and look through telescopes and get some facts about (the eclipse),” Sletten said. “Luckily this year, the full eclipse happens at a time that’s reasonable. Most of them have been at 3 a.m. and only the dedicated people go out to see it.”
The lunar eclipse is an opportunity for people to gain a little perspective about the universe itself.
“Even though it’s just a shadow, and we see shadows every day, but then you see it on the moon and it kind of gives you cosmic perspective,” Sletten said. “It’s really cool to see something ordinary on a grander scale and it just gives us a different context to look at everyday life.”
A super blood moon is very hard to come by.
“It has to happen during a full moon,” Breman said. “But it’s also tilted relative to what’s called the “plane of the ecliptic”, which has the orbits of all the planets. You can’t have a total eclipse unless the moon’s orbit takes it right on that plane of the ecliptic. Plus, the moon (orbits in an ellipse) so it’s sometimes closer to the Earth than other times. Now we’re going to get a super moon eclipse.”
Even if you missed the super blood moon, there are plenty of pictures circulating through social media and news sites, and you can also catch the next one in 33 years.