A winter storm is not the only major event happening in the skies over New England on Sunday.
A total lunar eclipse, which is being referred to as a ‘super blood wolf moon,’ will be visible above North America overnight, and, weather-permitting, it’s a sight you might not want to miss, according to Tim Brothers, manager of MIT’s Wallace Astrophysical Observatory.
Below, Brothers breaks down three questions around what will be special about the moon on Sunday night.
What is a ‘super blood wolf moon’?
What will happen on Sunday night is a full lunar eclipse, Brothers said, and the labels attached to the moon reference different aspects of how and when the moon is appearing.
“Super” actually has nothing to do with the eclipse, rather it refers to how close the moon will be to the Earth.
“If it’s within 90 percent of the closest it can be to the Earth, then we call it a supermoon,” Brothers said.
Sunday’s is the first of three supermoons in a row, appearing next in February and then March.
There will also be three supermoons in a row next year.
“That just has to do with how close the moon is to the Earth,” he said. “What happens in this particular supermoon is that the moon will appear 14 percent larger, and it will appear 30 percent brighter. That’s just the moon itself.”
For Sunday, the label “blood” refers to the color the moon will appear during the eclipse.
The moon glowing red while it’s in the Earth’s shadow is typical for a full lunar eclipse because of how the planet’s atmosphere bends light, Brothers said.
“The red light continues on its journey from the sun and passes through our atmosphere and shines upon the moon,” he said. “So that’s what gives it the red color, and that’s why people refer to it as a blood moon now. But it’s really just a full lunar eclipse.”
The final label, “wolf,” references the time of year for the moon, according to Brothers.
“Each month typically has, when it has a full moon in it, some word attached to it,” he said.
When will it be visible in New England?
Brothers said the eclipse will start to be visible in the region around 9:36 p.m. on Sunday.
“It will reach its max — so when it’s most red and in the exact middle of the eclipse — will be 12:12 a.m. on Monday, the 21st. And it will conclude at 2:48 a.m. on Monday the 21st,” Brothers said.
So far, it looks like the weather New England will be experiencing will impact visibility of the eclipse in the region.
“Right now it looks like it’s full cloud cover with a mixture of snow and whatever else New England can throw at us,” Brothers said. “So it’s not looking optimistic.”
But given how “local” the weather can be in New England, some areas might luck out and get a break in the clouds.
Brothers advised keeping an eye on the forecast for more than just visibility with the arctic temperatures bearing down early next week.
“If somebody is really interested, especially since it is a long weekend and most people are not working or going to school on Monday, for some people it might be worth it to drive an hour or two away — though it will be cold, no matter what,” he said. “It’s looking like it will be around zero degrees if not in the negatives during the eclipse itself. So dress warmly.”
Why should you try and see it?
If there is a break in the clouds where you are — or not too far away — Brothers said it might be worth putting in the effort to see the ‘super blood wolf moon’ since the next total lunar eclipse won’t be visible in North America until May 15, 2022.
It’s also one of the few astronomical events that you don’t need to worry about light pollution for viewing it — you also don’t need a telescope.
“Even if you were in the middle of Boston you can still see a full lunar eclipse,” Brothers said.
The last time a total lunar eclipse was visible in Massachusetts was Sept. 28, 2015.
“If people find any bit of clearness and a hole in the clouds, try to enjoy the eclipse. And even if you miss it, my advice to anyone in these kind of situations that are momentary is don’t be disappointed. Go out the next clear night and enjoy the night sky because there’s a lot of beautiful things, whether it’s Mars or the Orion Nebula that are up right now,” Brothers said. “And don’t forget to turn off your lights because that really helps allow more objects to appear to your human eye.”
If you do get “clouded out,” Brothers suggested marking your calendar for another astronomical event worth witnessing in 2019.
“The planet Mercury is going to be transiting in front of the sun, which means it will pass in front of the sun and create a little black dot as it passes across,” he said. “And that will be happening on Nov. 11 of 2019. That of course will be happening during the daytime because the sun will be up.”
You can also look for livestreams of the ‘super blood wolf moon’ eclipse if it won’t be visible where you are.