Posted December 31, 2017 at 09:00 AM | Updated December 31, 2017 at 11:45 AM
The first of two full “supermoons” of January 2018 will soon be shining in the sky. Here’s a look at a supermoon that appeared over West Orange, N.J. in 2016. (Robert Sciarrino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
If there’s such a thing as a Super Bowl for amateur astronomers, it’s happening in January 2018. The new year is ringing in with two rare “supermoons” — including one that will be a “blue moon” — along with a lunar eclipse. All during the same month.
The first of the two supermoons will appear in the sky on New Year’s Day, and the second one will be glowing on Jan. 31. That one will be a “blue moon,” because it’s the second full moon during the same calendar month.
Such an occurrence happens only once in a blue moon — well, technically, once every two to three years, according to astronomy experts from Space.com.
The first supermoon of 2018 will be officially at its fullest phase at 9:24 p.m. Eastern time (New York City time) on Monday, Jan. 1, and will be the biggest full moon of the year. The best time to see it is in the hours just after sunset, when the moon will be rising in the eastern sky.
You can also see the full moon as it sets on Tuesday morning, in the hours before sunrise. (Monday’s sunset takes place in New York at 4:39 p.m., and Tuesday’s sunrise takes place at 7:20 a.m.)
The second supermoon of 2018 — the so-called “blue moon” — will be officially at its fullest phase at 8:26 a.m. Eastern time (New York City time) on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
So, the ideal time to see it is on the night of Jan. 30 or the night of Jan. 31.
A lunar eclipse will be occurring on the morning of Jan. 31. Although it is considered a full lunar eclipse, experts say people in most parts of the eastern United States will not be able to enjoy the full effect because the moon will be so low in the sky during the full phase of the eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the earth’s shadow, blocking the light that the sun normally reflects off the moon’s surface — the light that makes the moon appear to glow.
The earth’s shadow will start touching the moon’s face at about 5:50 a.m. Eastern time, and a partial eclipse will start at 6:48 a.m., with the moon appearing to be red. Experts say the moon will be close to the horizon, so if you’re planning to see the eclipse find a location that has a clear view of the west-northwest.
At about 7 a.m., the maximum phase of the lunar eclipse will take place, with the moon close under the horizon, according to timeanddate.com.
“The best time to view the eclipse in New York would be around this time,” the website says. “Since the moon is near the horizon at this time, we recommend going to a high point or finding an unobstructed area with free sight to west-northwest for the best view of the eclipse.”
What is a wolf moon?
The wolf moon is an old nickname for the January full moon, dating back to the days when native American tribes gave nicknames to each month’s full moon to help keep track of the seasons.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the full moon of January “appeared when wolves howled in hunger outside the villages.” That’s how the nickname was derived, and it continued to be used during colonial times.
Since there are two full moons in January 2018, the first one will be known as the wolf moon and the second one will be called the blue moon.
What is a supermoon?
The average distance between the Earth and the moon is 238,000 miles. When the moon tracks less than 223,000 miles from the Earth during its full phase, it’s considered a “supermoon” because it appears to be larger and brighter in the sky, particularly when it begins to rise over the horizon.
Some experts say that despite all the social media buzz over supermoons, they are only slightly larger than a normal full moon and casual observers probably won’t notice the difference between the two. Regardless, if the atmospheric conditions are good, this weekend’s full moon should appear to be brighter than usual.
How often do supermoons occur?
Supermoons usually occur a few times each year, but 2017 was a dud, with only one full supermoon in the sky. That was in early December, with the full “cold moon.“
Earlier in the year, a supermoon occurred on three different occasions during the moon’s new phase, when the moon was dark at night. Although there was nothing to see, those moons met the technical definition of a supermoon because of their close proximity to our planet.