5 things to know about the lunar trifecta starting Tuesday
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If the spectacle of last year's solar eclipse feels like a distant memory, the cosmos will offer another treat this week, and you won't need any special glasses to witness it.
A supermoon, blue moon and total lunar eclipse will combine for a lunar trifecta, a rare event owing to lunar phases and conventions of our calendar.
The last time the moon put on that kind of display was in December 1982 over a shorter period of about 12 hours, says Michelle Nichols, director of public observing at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
Ahead of the event, the Daily Herald spoke with Nichols and others about what to expect.
Q. What is the "super blue blood moon"?
A. The supermoon will appear Tuesday morning when the moon is closer to Earth in its orbit.
Western states in the U.S. will have the best chances of seeing the eclipse Wednesday morning. And as the second full moon of the month, it's also considered a "blue moon."
According to NASA, the "super blue moon will pass through Earth's shadow to give viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. While the moon is in the Earth's shadow, it will take on a reddish tint, known as a 'blood moon.'"
The moon will pass through the shadow of the Earth a couple of times a year.
"The sunlight is passing through the Earth's atmosphere all around the edge of the Earth, so think of the lunar eclipse color as the collective sunrises and sunsets around the entire edge of the earth at that point," Nichols says.
Q. When is the supermoon and lunar eclipse?
A. The moon will be at its closet point to Earth -- some 223,000 miles away -- at 3:56 a.m. Tuesday, Nichols says.
The partial eclipse will start at 5:48 a.m. Wednesday. The totality phase begins at 6:51 a.m. -- when the moon appears just 1.8 degrees above the horizon.
"That's why we're telling people to get that clear view to the west," Nichols said.
Q. Can you see the supermoon and the eclipse in the suburbs?
A. If you're up in the pre-dawn hours, clear skies should make for unobscured views of the supermoon before clouds return later Tuesday and thicken into the afternoon, says Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Romeoville office.
But the forecast at the time of Wednesday's eclipse sounds less promising.
"It does look more on the cloudy side all of Tuesday night into Wednesday morning," Friedlein said.
The Naperville Astronomical Association plans to post a notice Tuesday night on its website, Naperastro.org, about whether the club plans to proceed with an eclipse viewing from a hill at the Greene Valley Forest Preserve near Naperville.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has agreed to open the Greene Valley gate at 5:30 a.m. The entrance to the hill is on Greene Road, south of 75th Street.
Q. Can you watch the eclipse online?
A. NASA will host a live feed of the moon starting at 4:30 a.m. Central time Wednesday on NASA.gov/live. The broadcast will offer a look from telescopes at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory, weather permitting, the space agency says.
Q. So you missed the lunar eclipse. When's the next one?
A. "If you don't see it, don't worry," Nichols said. "We have better ones coming."
Indeed, you have to wait only less than a year for a total eclipse on Jan. 20, 2019. That eclipse should be visible from our area mid-evening, provided the skies are clear.
"I would get excited about that one," Nichols said.
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