If you could tap into the greatest minds in science, physics, space, innovation and technology, what common thread would you find? What is it that inspires ordinary people to seek out the extraordinary? One thing that compels them to start thinking outside the box is they look to the skies. The most accomplished innovators make a habit of searching for things that fill them with a sense of wonder and imagination. Their whole life is consumed with an unquenchable desire to solve the mysteries of the seemingly infinite universe.
We should aspire to do the same, and this month, we’ll get our chance. On January 31, a very rare and beautiful astronomical event will take place. A Super Blue Blood Eclipsed Moon will grace our skies; it's the first of its kind in a century and a half. Not only has it captured the attention of the world’s astronomers and astrophysicists, it has piqued the interest of history buffs and theologians. Apparently, there were some significant events that took place when this moon showed up last time ... over a hundred years ago, and they parallel what’s happening today.
Capture it with amazing photos
Here’s the fun part, this particular moon is totally photographical, so even if you’re an amateur, you can grab some amazing shots. The question is when, where and how to do it right.
Award-winning scientist, author and educator Andrew Fraknoi was quick to call me with answers. Andrew had been an expert guest on my two-part Total Eclipse podcast. My listeners were able to get the best seats in the house and take some terrific pictures because of his advice. Anyway, he was so excited about this Super Blue Blood Eclipsed Moon that I recorded our conversation and turned it into a podcast. If you want to get the lowdown on the upcoming Supermoon, listen to it now. Fraknoi ’s list of achievements alone would take up an entire article, but suffice to say, he’s won more awards than nearly anyone I know.
Here’s what to expect on Wednesday morning, January 31. Residents of North America, particularly those on the west coast, will experience a rare triple event:
- The full moon will enter the Earth’s shadow and show a total eclipse, turning the full moon into a dark reddish disk.
- This will be the second full moon in the same month – a phenomenon called a “blue moon.”
- It will also be a “supermoon,” where the Moon is fullest just as it positions itself closest to our planet Earth. We’ve had three Supermoons in a row, but not a blue eclipsed moon. In fact, this hasn’t happened for over 150 years, so having all three together is highly unusual.
When is the best time to view?
Here are the times of the eclipse of the Moon on the morning of January 31 in different time zones:
As you can see on this table, the full moon sets in the eastern portion of the U.S. before the total eclipse. Residents on the East Coast will miss most of the picturesque viewing. Those in the Western half are more fortunate. Some or all of the eclipse will be visible for a long period of time to those who can get up a little early.
Digital Photo Secrets
If you want to try your hand at lunar photography, January 31 is the perfect day, especially for those farther west. The moon will be in the sky for a while, and it won’t be bright white. It’s perfectly safe to look at, and extremely photogenic. David Peterson from Digital Photo Secrets had a few tips to share with me, and I just want to recap a few of his recommended settings:
- For the very best shots, you will need to own a digital SLR and a telephoto lens that allows you to zoom into 200 millimeters or more. If you can afford it, he suggests using a 400, 500 or 800-millimeter lens, which allows you to get in close enough to make the moon your focal point.
- You'll also definitely need a tripod. That’s a given.
- Take the camera off “auto” and use “Spot Metering” instead. Spot metering tells the camera to correctly expose what's in the center of the image rather than the whole thing.
- Turn off your autofocus and set your focus to infinity.
- Use your “bracketing feature” if you have one. It lets you take a number of photos at different exposures, which is really nice.
- If you have to choose between over and under exposure, always go for the “under” and fix it later in a graphics program.
- Start with your ISO at 200, an f-11 aperture and 1/125 of a second. Try a test shot. Then try changing the shutter speed until you get that perfect shot.
Once in a blue moon
In terms of historical significance, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Many experts believe that the political and religious events happening today parallel those that happened around the last Super Blue Blood Eclipsed Moon in 1866. Here’s a partial list from Wikipedia:
- The second United States Capitol dome is completed in Washington, D.C. after 11 years of work; it survives to the modern day.
- The last issue of the abolitionist magazine "The Liberator" is published in Boston.
- The United States Congress overwhelmingly passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first federal legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans; U.S.
- President Andrew Johnson vetoes the bill on March 27, and Congress overrides the veto on April 9.
- May 16 – The U.S. Congress approves the minting of a nickel 5-cent coin, eliminating its predecessor, the half dime.
- July 4 – The Great Fire of Portland, Maine kills two and leaves 10,000 homeless in the worst fire in an American city at this time.
- July 23 – The Judicial Circuits Act reduces the number of United States circuit courts to nine and the number of Supreme Court justices to seven.
- August 27–September 15 – President Andrew Johnson goes on his Swing Around the Circle speaking tour to gain support for his Reconstructionist policies and Democratic Party candidates in the upcoming elections.
- In 1866, the world saw an alarming amount of assassination attempts, including the first attempt on the life of a Russian Tsar.
These are certainly interesting, politically unsavory times for Americans. It’s easy to focus on prophetical and political coincidences to try and make sense of it all. The moon has always been associated with superstition, but let’s not forget about the wonder. The awe.
Remember I talked about “great minds” at the beginning of this article? Great minds are always exploring new territory, breaking new ground. And let’s not forget that the moon is romantic. Whether you’re head over heels in love or drowning in tears over a love lost, why not let this rare blue moon wash over you with its beauty? Let its presence comfort you, inspire you, and remind you of how awesome it is to be in the presence of such a spectacle. Let it fill you with a renewed sense of awe, wonder, and most importantly, hope.
I hope you’ll get to enjoy this wonderful, historical treasure on January 31.