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Stalking the 'Super Blood Wolf Moon' eclipse

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Three of the biggest full moons of the year will be high and bright in Southern Oregon’s skies on Jan. 20, Feb. 19 and March 21. Known as “supermoons,” these full moons appear larger in the sky because they occur while the moon is closest to the earth in its orbital cycle while the moons are full, or at perigee.

The Jan. 20 supermoon will also undergo a total lunar eclipse, which is popularly called a Blood Moon. Because this is a January full moon, it is also known as Wolf Moon. And so, January’s full moon gets all three titles: Super Blood Wolf Moon.

Weather permitting, the public is invited to ScienceWorks in Ashland on from 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday where Southern Oregon Skywatchers will be on hand with telescopes to view the lunar event. On the West Coast, the lunar eclipse starts at 7:30 p.m., totality runs from 8:41 to 9:43 p.m., and the eclipse ends at 10:50 p.m. when the moon fully emerges from Earth’s shadow.

Clear weather for this year’s Super Blood Wolf Moon is unlikely and, if you can’t see the moon, the Southern Oregon Skywatchers will not set up telescopes for public viewing of the eclipse.

“I get excited about a big event, wait for months or years and then the weather doesn’t cooperate; it’s the story of my life,” said Robert Black, who teaches science at North Medford High School and runs the planetarium and observatory there. “I checked the weather history of Jan. 20 for the last 20 years and only 20 percent of these dates were clear.”

“You don’t need a telescope to see the eclipse,” explained ScienceWorks executive director Dan Ruby, who has a background in planetary science. “You can go outside and find the moon. It will look cool, so throughout the evening, even if the weather is bad, there will probably be some breaks where the sky opens up and you can see something.”

Rain or shine, ScienceWorks is planning a full weekend of lunar activities during regular open hours as well as a selection of rotating hands-on adventures.

Some of the language of astronomy has been influenced by folklore, religion and astrology and has been documented by EarthSky writer, Bruce McClure. It was astrologist Richard Nolle who first coined the word “supermoon” in 1979, referring to full moons that come within 224,775 miles of the Earth. And a Wolf Moon is the first moon of winter, a name given in some traditional hunting societies.

McClure writes that the use of the phrase Blood Moon for a moon in total eclipse was first used by Christian pastor, John Hagee, in 2013 to infer a Biblical prophecy. Nevertheless, scientists have long described a lunar eclipse moon as blood red because during the eclipse the moon appears as coppery red-orange because the little light illuminating Earth’s sole satellite is refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere, a kind of 360-degree sunset/sunrise effect. Also known as Rayleigh Scattering, this atmospheric phenomenon is also what causes the sky to appear blue, and orange-red-pink during smoky summer sunsets.

Southern Oregon Skywatchers meet monthly on third Wednesdays in the planetarium at North Medford High School, 1900 North Keene Way Drive. All meetings, as well as star parties and other events are open to the public. Visit www.orskywatchers.org for more information.

If the Rogue Valley skies are clear on Sunday night and the Super Blood Wolf Moon is visible, Southern Oregon Skywatchers will be on hand with telescopes at ScienceWorks, 1500 East Main St. in Ashland, from 8 to 10 p.m. Dress warmly and bring a chair if you want to stay a while. If the weather seems uncertain, check the ScienceWorks’ Facebook page before you head out.

Regular hours for ScienceWorks are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday with special open hours on Monday, Jan. 21, in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

This photo combination shows the different stages of a "Super Blue Blood Moon" during a lunar eclipse as seen from Santa Monica, California, in January 2018. (AP Photo)
ScienceWorks executive director Dan Ruby holds an inflatable model of the moon showing where Apollo astronauts landed on the moon in 1969. The massive telescopes were made by Southern Oregon Skywatchers. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella