Something rare and intriguing occurs tonight, something not expected to be seen in North America again until 2058, a supermoon total lunar eclipse.
Or, if you prefer its nickname, the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse of 2019.
Roswell residents are in a great spot to observe the intragalactic exhibition.
“It’s location, location, location, and we’re fortunate. A lot of the United States will see the total lunar eclipse,” said Peggy Bohlin, a local educator who heads several science-related organizations in the community, including the Roswell Astronomy Club.
The club is holding a viewing event, weather permitting, from 7:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. in the lawn area of the Roswell Convention and Civic Center, 912 N. Richardson Ave.
At least three telescopes will be available for people who want a close-up look at the phenomenon, although it can be seen safely with the naked eye. People are invited to bring chairs or blankets as they watch the various stages of the eclipse.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the moon will begin to enter partial shadows (the penumbra) about 7:36 p.m. local time (Mountain Standard Time).
It will start to enter the full shadow, or umbra, when it will start to take on its reddish hue, at about 8:33 p.m.
A total eclipse is expected around 9:41 p.m., with the moon being at its greatest eclipse at 10:12 p.m. The moon will stay in the full shadow for about an hour. It will be completely out of both the umbra and penumbra by 12:50 a.m.
While it is certainly possible for people to view the celestial show on their own, joining the members of the Astronomy Club will provide some benefits, Bohlin said. Those at the event will not only have access to telescopes, they also can learn about the eclipse and astronomy from club members.
“It is a rare occasion,” said Bohlin. “It doesn’t happen often. It is not only a super blood moon — yes, there are lunar eclipses — but this is a total eclipse.”
A full moon is visible each month, but a supermoon typically occurs only a few times a year. It’s when a full moon is closest to the earth during its orbit. A supermoon appears noticeably larger and brighter than a typical full moon. Supermoons also will be seen on Feb. 19, when it will be closest to the earth this calendar year, and March 21.
But, as Bohlin points out, tonight is also a total lunar eclipse, when the earth is positioned between the sun and the moon, causing the earth to block out most of the light. The next total lunar eclipse will not occur until May 26, 2021, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but people in the United States won’t be in a position to see one until May 16, 2022.
The total eclipse causes the sun’s rays to scatter and be filtered through dust, ash and other particles, causing the moon to have a reddish — or blood — color.
Now that most of the words in the nickname are explained, where does the “wolf” part of the nickname come from?
“In Native American and early Colonial times, the full moon for January was called the Full Wolf Moon,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website. “It appeared when wolves howled in hunger outside the villages.”
The supermoon lunar eclipse will be visible to people in the central Pacific, North America, South America, Africa, northern Europe and northern Asia.
The Roswell Astronomy Club meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Roswell Adult and Recreation Center, 807 N. Missouri Ave. The youth group, the Roswell Junior Galaxy Club, meets at 1 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month at the Roswell Adult Center. The Astronomy Club also sponsors public moon-gazing and stargazing events about once a month when weather conditions allow, and members also bring telescopes to local festivals and educational events.
Bohlin also leads Camp Invention, a science workshop for youth, which is scheduled for June 3-7 at the New Mexico Military Institute.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.