Once in a super blue blood moon? Three lunar phenomena overlap

On January 31, for the first time in just over 34 years — or 152 years, depending where you live — a super moon, a blue moon and a blood moon all occured on the same night.

To be fair, it does sound pretty special: a celestial trifecta, a hat-trick in the sky, a three-moon extravaganza. That it is a thing to behold is confirmed by its rarity. The last time anyone on Earth witnessed this particular convergence was on December 30, 1983 but for most places the wait has been even longer, all the way back to 1866.

Unfortunately, most people living in Europe — including almost everyone living in Germany — missed out on the full spectacle. It's all a question of latitude you see, for when the moon rose over that part of the planet, the darkness of the eclipse had receded, meaning no blood moon was visible there. The blue and super bits still applied, at least.

For those living in North America, most of Russia, Asia, Australasia and parts of the Middle East, the odds of enjoying the full deck were a lot better.

Infografik Mondfinsternis 31. Januar 2018 ENG

So what exactly did those who live in the right places see with the spectacular-sounding super blue blood moon?

Arts | 28.09.2015

First of all, a super moon occurs when the moon is unusually close to Earth, making it appear much bigger and brighter to observers on our planet. This happens a few times a year and especially so during the winter months. Carolin Liefke, of the Association of German Star Friends (VdS) told dpa that during a so-called supermoon, the moon is 40,000 kilometers (24,854 miles) closer to the Earth than normal.

So what about the blue moon part? We all know the phrase "once in a blue moon", meaning something extremely rare, but will the moon actually be blue? Don't be too disappointed if it doesn't seem so to you.

A blue moon is the name given when a second full moon occurs in the space of a calendar month. Yet it does not appear to be especially blue and is more of a calendar event than something the naked eye will see. There was a full moon on January 2 and now another one on January 31, giving us the "blue moon".

"We have a full moon every 29 days, so this is something that can often happen," says Liefke. On average, a blue moon occurs once every two and a half years.

Last but certainly not least is the blood moon, which is a natural consequence of a total lunar eclipse.

The eclipse happens when the Earth passes, briefly, between the moon and the sun. The effect of this brief shadowing is that the moon appears to be blood-red, rather than its normal reflective bright color, as a result of the refraction of sunlight.

Viewers in the right location witnessed this total lunar eclipse. If you lived in North America, the eclipse was visible before sunrise on January 31. For those in the Middle East, Asia, eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, the full super blue blood moon could be seen as the moon rose on January 31.

There is some good news for Europeans who missed out on the lunar trifecta, at least: there is another total lunar eclipse coming on July 27 and that, unlike the January 31 instalment, will be visible from most parts of Europe.

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Not for the naked eye

Stargazers beware: Eye doctors urgently warn not to look directly at the sun during Friday's solar eclipse. The only way to view an eclipse directly is with special glasses that filter out harmful rays to prevent permanent eye damage, or even blindness.

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Total solar eclipse

Europe watched its last total solar eclipse - when the moon fully blocks the sun and its shadow falls on Earth - in 1999. This time around, the full eclipse will only be visible from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and the Faroe Islands.

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Eclipse junkies beware

Up to 2,000 eclipse chasers are expected to descend on Svalbard, where accommodation was booked out months ago. The region has more polar bears than inhabitants, and local authorities have warned tourists to be on the lookout. On the eve of the eclipse, a Czech national who was out camping was mauled in a bear attack.

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In the moon's shadow

Svalbard and the Faroe Islands fall within the moving path of the moon's umbra, and will be plunged into darkness for about three minutes when the moon blocks out the sun completely on March 20. Countries in the penumbra, on the other hand, will just be able to see a chunk of the sun blotted out.

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Partial eclipse for some

People in North Africa, Europe and northern Asia at least have a partial eclipse to look forward to. In Germany, 2003 was the last time people had to don eclipse glasses to watch the spectacle - as far as cloud cover allowed, see above.

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A glow in the sky

Lunar eclipses can be just as spectacular as the solar variety, and perhaps even more haunting. Check out the coppery hue of this "blood moon" as it passes into Earth's shadow, seen from the Philippines in October, 2014.

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It's Supermoon!

A full, or new, moon coincides with the moon's closest approach to the Earth in its orbit: voila, a Supermoon. It's bright, and simply looks huge. US astrologer Richard Nolle, who supposedly coined the term 30 years ago, says 2015 will see six supermoons.

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"And Venus was her name"

The Transit of Venus is another visible phenomenon: The planet Venus, a so-called 'terrestrial planet' similar in size to Earth, passes like a tiny dot directly in front of our solar disk. These transits are much less frequent than eclipses: twice in eight years, and then not again for over 100 years.

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