Mid-Michigan witnesses the super blue blood moon - WNEM TV 5

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Mid-Michigan witnesses the super blue blood moon

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Lunar eclipses come around at least one per year, but there's something special about the one that's coming to our skies on January 31. An eclipse of the Moon may not inherently be a rare event, but this time around, it's a different story.

>>Slideshow: Super blue blood moon<<

Lunar Eclipse: What's going on?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through Earth's shadow during it's monthly orbit. This can only occur when the Moon and Sun are positioned on opposite sides of the Earth, and thus it always coincides with a full moon.

The appearance of the eclipse depends on exactly how much of Earth's shadow the Moon passes through. The Moon's orbit is not perfectly level with that of our planet, so there are instances where the Moon only passes through a portion of Earth's shadow, and others where it is completely obscured. Partial eclipses can leave the Moon looking like someone has taken a large bite out of it, but a total lunar eclipse can come in one of two varieties. Sometimes, the Moon simply darkens and disappears.

More frequently though, the Moon remains visible, but is tinted a deep red or orange color due to sunlight passing through and being bent by our atmosphere. As with a vibrant red or orange sunrise/sunset, the sunlight loses energy as it passes through a larger portion of Earth's atmosphere, skewing the visible light toward the red end of the spectrum.

A rare alignment of events

Let's cut right to the chase. Wednesday morning's eclipse has a mouthful of a name. Super Blue Blood Moon. Sounds flashy, but it's not done for the sake of theatrics. The name actually indicates a number of events coinciding for this particular eclipse.

First, we have a super moon. Like the last full moon on New Year's Day, this one will be occurring when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth. This results in the Moon appearing slightly larger, and significantly brighter.

This will also be a blue moon. That is, a second full Moon in a given calendar month. In this case, January 2018 is being bookended by a pair of full moons on the 1st and 31st.

Finally, the Blood Moon. Since total lunar eclipses often stain the Moon a blood red or orange color during totality, it often picks up that last nickname. 

The last time a total lunar eclipse coincided with both a Blue Moon and Super Moon was all the way back on March 31, 1886. That's almost 132 years! 

The Timeline (and a catch)

Excited to see such a rare celestial event? I certainly am too, and there's good news! The eclipse will be visible on Wednesday morning on our side of the planet! The bad news is, there are a few factors working against us.

The timeline of the eclipse is as follows:

- Penumbral Eclipse Begins (Moon begins to darken): 5:51 AM

- Partial Eclipse Begins (Moon begins to turn red): 6:48 AM

- Totality: 7:51 AM - 9:07 AM

Now, there is second half of this event after totality as the Moon begins to emerge from Earth's shadow, but I'm going to stop there. Here's where we run into a problem. 

Viewing of the eclipse is going to become increasingly difficult for us as we approach totality, as the Moon competes with a brightening sky, and it's position in the sky. Totality begins at 7:51 AM, but both sunrise and moonset in our area occur at 7:52 AM on Wednesday morning. The Moon will be sinking in our western sky as it begins to turn red, and will duck out of view just as the event begins to peak.

Unfortunately, that will not be our only viewing challenge. Based on our latest forecast, cloudy skies look like they are going to move in Tuesday night, and some light snow showers, spoiling the party a bit. We could always get lucky and sneak in a few breaks in the clouds, but we'll be sure to keep you posted on that.

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