The sun, the Earth and the moon lined up in a row to put on a light show in Sunday’s night sky, and people around the world looked up to watch the lunar eclipse.
It was a special one for at least two reasons.
First, this moon was a supermoon. It happened to be at perigee, the spot in its slightly oblong orbit that brings it closest to the Earth. And that made it look particularly large in the sky.
The last supermoon total lunar eclipse occurred 33 years ago.
Second, this lunar eclipse was the last in a series of four spanning two years, a phenomenon called a tetrad. Those can happen a couple of times in a century, or they can make themselves very rare, skipping over a few centuries.
Some people call the totally eclipsed moon a “blood moon” for the rusty red-orange color it turns once it is completely in the Earth’s shadow. But that shadow isn’t perfect, and faint sunbeams sneak around Earth’s edges on all sides in the color of a sunset.
It bathes the moon in a brilliant, warm hue.
Brendan McInnis in California loved it. He made a video and tweeted out a GIF. “#SuperBloodMoon looked amazing from San Francisco even with clouds,” he wrote to the image.
Overcast skies canceled the show over much of the United States, but NASA streamed it live for those who might otherwise miss it. And they asked observers to post their own photos, which can be seen in answer to @NASA’s tweets.
Some others who saw the eclipse found it less exciting than the hype that preceded it.
“What people expect their pictures to look like tonight vs what they will look like #SuperBloodMoon,” one user tweeted with two pictures for comparison — the first a huge, red ball, the second a tiny dot.
In Jerusalem, a CNN team saw Christians gathered near the Temple Mount late Sunday watching the eclipse and singing songs, holding hands.
“It’s a beautiful sight in the nighttime sky,” astronomer Mark Hammergren. “It’s a way of connecting us to the universe at large. It gives us this view that there’s a bigger picture than just what we’re concerned with in our daily lives.”
The next supermoon eclipse isn’t due until 2033.
Why the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse is Special
Stargazers, night owls and space observers prepared for the coming of the eclipse of the supermoon.
The United States and much of the world saw skies graced by a bright, big moon that was encapsulated in a total lunar eclipse late Sunday evening into early Monday, according to NASA.
The lunar combination is happening for the first time in 30 years.
The supermoon, which comes around once every year, will appear 14% larger and 30% brighter in the sky that evening before it is engulfed by an eclipse for more than an hour.
As if that wasn’t already a spectacular sight, this eclipse is the fourth and final in the so called “blood moons,” a phrase that has become popular to describe the four lunar eclipses we have seen in 2014 and 2015. Scientifically this is known as a “lunar tetrad.”
Another supermoon eclipse will not occur again until 2033
How to watch the supermoon eclipse
The total lunar eclipse will last about one hour and 12 minutes, according to NASA. It will be seen in North and South America, as well as Europe, Africa, parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific.
However, skywatchers can camp out early for the partial lunar eclipse, which will begin at 8 p.m. ET in the United States. As the planet’s shadow dims the supermoon, this will create dramatic viewing opportunities for observers. The eclipse will reach its peak during the 10 o’clock hour, giving the supermoon a reddish, copper-like hue. The event should end after midnight.
Unlike solar eclipses, which need to be viewed with special eye gear, the lunar eclipse can be seen with the naked eye after nightfall.
People interested in seeing the event can simply step outside Sunday evening to see the lunar phenomenon. For a better view, some parks and planetariums in the United States will be scheduling viewing parties.
See the forecast for your region to learn whether your location will be able to view the eclipse.
How to watch the eclipse online
If your region falls victim to cloud coverage, which even telescopes can’t penetrate through, or you live in an area that won’t see the total lunar eclipse, there are options available to watch the event free online.
NASA TV (www.nasa.gov) will be streaming video of Sunday’s supermoon eclipse starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. It will broadcast from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Alabama, with a live feed from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.
The feed will stay active until 11:30 p.m ET. Observers can ask a NASA solar physicist questions about the eclipse using the hashtag #AskNASA on Twitter.
Virtual Telescope (www.virtualtelescope.eu), an organization that has powerful robotic telescopes, will also offer a live feed of the event. An astrophysicists will be on hand to provide commentary for the eclipse.
Sky and Telescope (www.skyandtelescope.com) will begin their live feed at 9:00 p.m. ET. As viewers watch the moon glide in and out of Earth’s shadow, the publication plans to have a line up of special guests who will provide informative background and analysts of the event.
Slooh (www.slooh.com), which dubs itself as the world’s largest community of space watchers, will broadcast a live feed as well.
Why this event is special
Since the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle, there are times when the moon is closer to our planet. This is known as perigee. Sunday’s supermoon will technically be a perigee full moon, the closest full moon of the year, NASA says.
“There’s no physical difference in the moon,” said Noah Petro, scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It just appears slightly bigger in the sky. It’s not dramatic, but it does look larger.”
Lunar eclipses are common and happen twice a year. However, there are some end-times theorists who view Sunday’s event as a signal for the end of the world.
Petro explained that the combination of a supermoon and eclipse happening at the same time is just planetary dynamics. “When the rhythms line up, you might get three to four eclipses in a row or a supermoon and an eclipse happening,” he said.
But the last time a supermoon eclipse occurred was in 1982, making Sunday’s rare event worth staying up past bedtime.