It’s a cosmic trifeca that makes “once in a blue moon” seem relatively common. And Longyearbyen residents will be in even more rarified company as some of the very few people on Earth able to see it in the middle of the day on Wednesday.
The so-called “super blue blood moon” will combine 1) a supermoon (a full moon or new moon when it’s closest to Earth), 2) a blue moon (a second full moon during a month) and 3) a total lunar eclipse. It’s the first such occurrence since 1982 and the next one won’t occur until 2037, according to the science website phys.org.
“The Jan. 31 full moon is special for three reasons: it’s the third in a series of ‘supermoons,’ when the Moon is closer to Earth in its orbit – known as perigee – and about 14 percent brighter than usual,” NASA wrote in a post on its website. It’s also the second full moon of the month, commonly known as a ‘blue moon.’ The super blue moon will pass through Earth’s shadow to give viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. While the Moon is in the Earth’s shadow it will take on a reddish tint, known as a ‘blood moon.’”
People living in the western part of North America will be able to see it if they get up before sunrise, while those in the Middle East, Asia, eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand will be able to observe it during the evening moonrise. But those in Longyearbyen will be among a handful in Europe – or anywhere – able to witness the full event (much of Norway will be able to observe portions) during the middle of the day due to its extreme northern location.
The eclipse will begin on Longyearbyen at 12:48 p.m. and end at 4:11 p.m., and achieve totality between 1:51 p.m. and 3:07 p.m. (reaching its maximum at 2:29 p.m.).
Of course, being among Earth’s super elite eclipse observers will depend on the weather. The forecast during the eclipse is for partly cloudy skies which, while not entirely encouraging, is the same as the forecast for early Tuesday afternoon when the skies were nearly clear except on the horizon. Temperatures of about minus ten degrees Celsius and winds reaching speeds of 15 kilometers an hours are also forecast.
Kai Müller, a Longyearbyen guide and professional photographer, advised in a Facebook post that optimum camera settings are “ISO 100, f10, 1/350 sec and keep the lens hood on to improve the contrast.”
“This is a reference to start with,” he added. “The rest we have to see when we know how much clouds, etc. there are.”
Pål Brekke, a senior advisor at the Norwegian Space Center, told Svalbardposten the phenomenon is an exceptional education as well as entertainment opportunity.
“For kindergartens and schools it may be a good opportunity to show and then explain how the celestial bodies move relative to Earth,” he said.
Scientists worldwide will be watching the event as well and, while much of it will be traditional solar and atmospheric research, some will also be using the eclipse to pursue further truths out there.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in studying lunar eclipses from a surprising source, the discovery of planets orbiting other stars,” wrote Tim O’Brien, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester, in an article for The Conversation. “If we see an ‘exoplanet’ pass across the face of its parent star, a small fraction of the starlight we collect will have passed through the planet’s atmosphere. Looking at spectra— measurements of light broken down by wavelength—taken during such a transit with those taken out of transit can help determine the composition of the atmosphere. This could include biosignatures such as oxygen, ozone or methane—which might give away the presence of extraterrestrial life.”