Alaska News

Here’s what you need to know to check out Tuesday night’s ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’

A forecast for clear skies Tuesday night means Anchorage-area sky-watchers are likely in for a treat: prime viewing of the “Super Flower Blood Moon.”

The what now?

A series of celestial events will converge early Wednesday morning, giving the moon its fantasy novel-worthy title.

Super Flower Blood Moon is “not an astronomy technical term,” said Omega Smith, planetarium and visualization theater manager at University of Alaska Anchorage. But the descriptor hooks people’s interest in the phenomenon, so, she said, “I kind of love it.”

Let’s start with the “super” part: The moon doesn’t have a completely circular orbit, Smith explained. On Tuesday night, the full moon will reach an especially close point in its orbit to the Earth, so it will appear especially large. That makes it a supermoon.

On top of that, there will be a lunar eclipse, when the moon is darkened by the Earth’s shadow blocking the sun. In this situation, the moon appears to take on a red color, making it a “blood moon.”

The redness is the result of the refraction of light from the Earth’s atmosphere.

“It’s the exact same thing that causes our sunsets to be red in color,” Smith said.

And what about the “flower” part? According to a NASA post about the event, “this Full Moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance.”

In Anchorage, Smith said the Super Flower Blood Moon will appear very low over the southern horizon, so if you want to see it, make sure there’s nothing obstructing the view toward the south.

If it all works out, you’ll get to see something special. Because the moon is going to be so low on the horizon, “it is going to appear even redder and bigger for us” than in other locations, Smith said.

Set an early alarm to catch the show: Starting at about 1:45 a.m., Smith said it’s “going to look like something is basically taking a bite out of the moon as the Earth’s shadow starts taking up more of the moon’s space.”

The total eclipse will start around 3:11 a.m. and end around 3:25 a.m., and then that’s a wrap on Alaska’s celestial viewing events for a while, thanks to summertime’s extra-long days.

“This is probably the only celestial event for the rest of the summer we will be able to witness here in Alaska,” Smith said.

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