On August 21st this past summer, four black women were walking down the street in Dayton, Tn., when a white man asked from his porch, “Are you ladies here to see the eclipse?” Told that yes, they most certainly were, the gentleman pointed to his back deck and another white couple and said, “If you don’t have plans, would you care to sit with us?”
The ladies were delighted and their hosts were equally delightful. Not only did all regal themselves with laughter and wonder and iced tea (he and one visitor prefer beer) and the aura of the eclipse – a never-before seen phenomena – the actual happening – the moon blotting out the sun -- prompted the man to fetch ground beef and hamburger buns from Food City (and additional iced tea and beer) for an impromptu lunch afterwards.
A week before this Christmas, the same four women with husbands/escorts, returned to that house in Dayton for a gala pot-luck evening. More beer was served than iced tea … but this shows that eclipses are powerful things. Powerful indeed.
So allow me to take you to science class …
I am pretty confident there is a colossal group of us who’ll never forget watching the eclipse last summer. To me it was one of the most awe-inspiring moments in nature I have ever witnessed. A lot less in my senior-status crowd will be able to tell you it was on August 21 but they’ll forever remember how in glory we all were about our marvelous universe and how some pledged they’ll never miss another.
You must understand: One like “ours” just comes along about every 99 years but if you want to see the rarest of them all, you now have about two weeks to get yourself to the western United States for the best seats.
I know … this is about the last thing on your mind when it is 10 degrees outside … but a “Blue Moon” Eclipse – that includes a Supermoon, mind you -- happens only once every 150 years and the table is set for this January 31st. What’s more, you won’t need your special glasses because this one’s at night.
Oh my goodness, the older I become the more I marvel at the blessings of our universe so stick with me here. For starters, a Blue Moon actually happens about once every 2.7 years. You see, most years we have only one new moon each month (the word ‘month’ is a derivative of ‘moon’) but because the lunar cycle is actually 29.53 days, and there are precisely 365.24 days in a tropical year, things don’t even out. Therefore every 2.7 years there is a month that will have two new moons.
A Blue Moon isn’t the color blue (“blue” comes from some ancient English word for “betrayer,” i.e. interloper). Of the 13 new moons in 2018, four will be Supermoons and we just had a Supermoon on January 2, in case you missed it. Every year we will have three or four Supermoons, usually one every three months in what is called a “season.” This year we have four, because this month, when the moon comes the closest to Earth in its elliptic orbit, it just so happens an additional “Blue Moon” occurs.
Don’t fear – Earth and Moon have never bumped. NASA says the average distance between the two is 238,855 miles but due to the elliptic path, right now it is roughly 223,068 miles away.
Thus, the second new moon in the same month is why you hear old people say, “Something like that only happens once in a Blue Moon.” Another thing too many don’t know is their momma and daddy smooched when the Marcels made ‘Blue Moon’ a No. 1 hit back in the day. (Sinatra sang it and Elvis could dress the song up fine, too. Dean Martin, Sha Na Na … oh, lordy, a bunch of them …)
Back to class: When the stars in the heavens align just so, and combine a Blue Moon, with a Supermoon, and with a total eclipse -- you can’t find a living person in the world right now who has ever seen anything to equal it. The best views will be in the northwestern United States and Canada, but because of the nighttime sky, it will be highly visible and NASA scientists say we may get a very brief, and very partial, view in Chattanooga.
If the skies are clear and Chattanoogans will look towards the west sky two weeks from today, the beginning of the eclipse – called the Penumbral – be at 5:51:13 and will last for almost two hours. The Penumbral is hard to see without a quality telescope but the Partial – which you can see far better -- will begin at 6:48:27 a.m. and just before the moon slips away before dawn, the Maximum will last from 7:37.11 a.m. until Moonset at 7:42:24. (Note: the Partial, of course, is part of the Maxim.)
If you were to be standing on the coast of Puget Sound, the Maximum will begin 6:30 a.m. and last until about 7 a.m. The Moonset will be at 8 a.m. but you’ll see what promises to be a spectacular show in a good number of western states.
HOW YOU SEE AN ECLIPSE IN THE DARK?
Believe it or not, the moon will turn into a Blood Moon, easily visible. Of course, this is high above my head so Jesse Emepak, who is a brilliant contributor on Space.com, can explain it far better than I can:
“During total lunar eclipses, the moon turns a deep red color when it enters the depths of Earth's shadow. So why doesn't the moon just look like it's in darkness? The color change happens because Earth's atmosphere acts as both a lens and a scattering medium for the sun's light.
“As light passes through any medium, it slows down a bit, and bends. So some sunlight gets bent toward the moon's surface as it passes through Earth's atmosphere during an eclipse. If you were standing on the moon, observing the Earth during a lunar eclipse, you'd see a ring of light around the Earth's edge as it passed in front of the sun.
“In addition to the bending, air scatters short-wave length light more than longer-wave length light. Colors such as green and blue have shorter wavelengths than red or orange, so they scatter more — and what's left is the redder end of the spectrum.”
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LYRICS TO ‘BLUE MOON’
“Blue moon you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
“Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for
“And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will ever hold
I heard somebody whisper "Please adore me"
And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold.”