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Tuesday, 30 January 2018 05:40

Look skyward Jan. 31 for a total lunar eclipse

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We’re in for a treat Jan. 31. Not only does that date mark the second full moon of the month, a phenomenon known as a blue moon, but we’ll also witness a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse. The total eclipse will peak at 6:29 a.m. in Alberta or 7:29 a.m. in Saskatchewan. It will take place slightly above the horizon in the western part of the sky. We’re in for a treat Jan. 31. Not only does that date mark the second full moon of the month, a phenomenon known as a blue moon, but we’ll also witness a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse. The total eclipse will peak at 6:29 a.m. in Alberta or 7:29 a.m. in Saskatchewan. It will take place slightly above the horizon in the western part of the sky. Dominique Liboiron

Mark Jan. 31 on your calendar – a trio of unique and stunning events will take place in the sky:there will be a blue moon, a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse all at the same time.


A blue moon is the second full moon in one calendar month. In this case, the first was Jan. 2. Blue moons don’t happen very often. On average, they occur only every two or three years. Their rarity gave rise to the expression, “once in a blue moon.”
The supermoon is also an interesting event. The moon doesn’t orbit the Earth in a perfect circle; it follows an oval-shaped path. Because of this, there are occasions when it’s closer to us or further away. During a supermoon, the moon is closer to our planet therefore it will be 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than usual.
The total lunar eclipse will begin at 3:51 a.m. in Alberta or 4:51 a.m. in Sask. 
Look for the moon in the western part of the sky about 35 degrees above the horizon. At that time, only the Earth’s outer shadow will be visible on the Moon’s surface. As it moves lower in the sky, the Moon will start to change colour around 4:48 a.m. (Alta.) or 5:48 a.m. (Sask.) The total eclipse’s peak is set for 6:29 a.m. (Alta.) or 7:29 a.m. (Sask.) The Moon will be close to the horizon.
Unfortunately, we won’t see the entire eclipse from start to finish. The moon will set at 7:59 a.m. (Alta.) or 8:59 a.m. (Sask.) and the eclipse ends at 9:08 a.m. (Alta.) or 10:08 a.m. (Sask.) That means the moon will be below the horizon as it moves completely out of the Earth’s shadow. Nevertheless, we’ll get to see the best part, which is when the moon is fully eclipsed and colourful.
Because the moon will be low in the sky, the best way to view this celestial event will be from a place that isn’t obstructed by trees, hills or buildings.
Eclipses occur when the sun, earth and moon form a line. The sun illuminates one side of our planet and causes a shadow behind the other. The moon moves through this shadow as it orbits the Earth and changes colour.
Although the moon is hidden by the Earth’s shadow, it’s still partially illuminated by refracted light. This is the light that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. As it does so, most of the blue and white are filtered out. The remaining red is most visible, but other colours can include orange, brown and dark grey.
The colouring of the moon during an eclipse depends on clouds and impurities in the Earth’s atmosphere such as dust and ash from volcanoes. These factors make it hard to predict the colour beforehand, but they explain why eclipses change colour from year to year.
Generally speaking, more impurities will cause a darker red.
The moon floats through the Earth’s shadow at roughly one kilometre per second; that’s about 2,300 mph or 3,700 km/h. During an eclipse, the Earth’s curved shadow can be seen on the moon. By noticing this curvature, the ancient Greeks were able to determine the world is round, but they had other ways of knowing, too. One was to compare the angle of shadows in different cities on the same day. Another was by noticing how an approaching ship’s mast was visible before the hull.
The last blue moon total eclipse occurred almost 152 years ago in March of 1866. Unlike the solar eclipse that took place Aug. 21, 2017, it’s safe to watch a lunar eclipse with the naked eye and no protective lenses or filters are needed.
A telescope or binoculars will make the viewing experience more spectacular.
If you missed the solar eclipse this summer, we’ll be able to see a partial one Apr. 8, 2024. Otherwise, the next total solar eclipse visible from Alberta and Sask. isn’t until the summer of 2044.
If it’s cloudy on the last day of this month or if you forget about the upcoming lunar eclipse, the next one will take place Jan. 20, 2019.

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Dominique Liboiron

Dominique Liboiron is a speaker, author, teacher, journalist and photographer. To raise awareness about heart disease and to honour the life of one of its victims, Liboiron canoed from Saskatchewan to New Orleans. He is the first person to undertake that journey. He enjoys outdoor sports such as camping, hunting, fly fishing and canoeing.