This weekend's 'super blood flower moon' lunar eclipse promises a dazzling show
Fact checked by Haley Mast
Get out and enjoy the first of two total lunar eclipses for 2022.
When it comes to total lunar eclipses, it doesn’t get much better than May’s full “Flower Moon” welcoming a return to warmer weather by turning a deep shade of red. That dramatic visual will unfold late Sunday evening and into Monday morning, as the moon is eclipsed by Earth’s shadow and undergoes a dramatic transformation.
"Lunar eclipses ... reflect our world," astronomer and podcaster Pamela Gay tells Space.com. "A blood-colored moon is created [by] ash from fires and volcanoes ... dust storms and pollution all filtering sunlight as it scatters around our world."
So what can we expect from this weekend’s anticipated celestial event? Below are some tips and fun facts to share with anyone who takes in the wonder of the lunar eclipse with you.
The Entire Eclipse Will Last Just Over 5 Hours
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are long-duration events. Sunday’s show will kick off at approximately 9:32 p.m. EDT, when the moon begins to enter the outside shadow (penumbral) of the Earth, and it will conclude at 2:50 a.m. Totality, the point at which the moon enters the Earth’s inner shadow (umbra) and begins a visual transformation, starts at 11:29 p.m. EDT, peaks at 12:15 a.m., and concludes at 12:53 a.m.
The good news is, unlike total solar eclipses, it’s perfectly safe to look at the moon just prior to and after totality.
Totality Will Turn The Moon’s Surface a Ruddy Red
At the peak of totality just after midnight, the full moon’s pearl-colored surface will turn a rusty red color, the result of refracted light in the Earth’s atmosphere casting its glow on the lunar surface.
“The red is the projection of all the sunrises and sunsets onto the lunar surface,” Dr. Noah Petro, project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, tells Forbes. “We see it turn red not because of some mythical fire-breathing dragon, but because of the properties of the Earth’s atmosphere scattering light.”
The View From the Moon Would Be Equally Stunning
While we’ve yet to observe the phenomenon, NASA says that, should we one day have robotic or human eyes on the moon’s surface during a total lunar eclipse, the view of Earth would be otherworldly.
“A red ring, the sum of all Earth's sunrises and sunsets, lines the Earth's limb and casts a ruddy light on the lunar landscape,” NASA explains in the above animation.
It Will Be a 'Supermoon' Total Eclipse
May’s “Flower Moon Eclipse” will be particularly impressive due to its occurrence during what’s popularly known as a “supermoon.” A supermoon is a full moon that happens during perigee, the point in its orbit when it’s closest to Earth. From this distance (about 226,000 miles) the moon appears slightly larger and almost 30% brighter. Conversely, when a full moon occurs during apogee, its furthest point from Earth (about 253,000 miles), it’s known as a mini or micromoon.
According to EarthSky, there will be a total of four supermoons in 2022, with July’s full “Buck Moon” coming the closest at 222,089 miles.
This Is the 22nd Total Lunar Eclipse of the 21st Century
While lunar eclipses are fairly common, with three occurring on average annually, optimal viewing conditions vary geographically and only 29% are total lunar eclipses. According to Time and Date, a total lunar eclipse can be seen from any given location roughly every 2.5 years. Over the course of the 21st century, 85 total lunar eclipses will occur. Should you miss this one (or cloud weather spoil the fun), number 23 is only a few months away on November 7, 2022.
Superstitions Run Deep With Lunar Eclipses
As you might expect, the moon turning red was seen by many cultures in ancient times as a foreboding omen. Some, however, such as the Batammaliba people in Africa, regarded the moon’s brief transformation as an opportunity to resolve differences.
“Traditionally, they view a lunar eclipse as a conflict between sun and moon—a conflict that the people must encourage them to resolve,” surmises The Conversation. “It is therefore a time for old feuds to be laid to rest, a practice that has remained until this day.”
Foul Weather Spoiling the View? Tune in to NASA’s Live Stream
Should Mother Nature deny you the pleasure of looking up and seeing much of anything on Sunday evening, NASA has you covered with a live stream of the entire eclipse. Tune in starting at 9:32 p.m. EDT and join NASA experts in learning more about this awesome celestial event.