There’s lots of excitement coming to a sky over you very soon.
You don’t have to do much to prepare—just look up at the heavens around midnight on Jan. 20 or before dawn on Jan. 21, depending on where you are, and you will see a unusual celestial event. The moon will be full and red during a total eclipse, an occurrence so rare it will only happen three times this century. The next time is Jan. 31, 2037. It will also be the only total lunar eclipse of this year, and it is expected to be visible in North and South America, Europe, and western Africa.
But you may want to bone up on your astronomical lexicon before then because there’s crazy language associated with this cosmic occurrence. This is a super blood wolf moon and a perigee syzygy. Let’s unpack the vocabulary:
- Wolf moon: This is simply the indigenous American name for the January full moon. According to the lore of yore, this full moon occurs in the dead of winter when it’s cold, the ground is frozen, and the prey pickings are slim, so wolves were hungry during this time and howled plaintively at the moon, their calls echoing frighteningly in villages.
- Supermoon: A supermoon is when the full moon coincides with a perigee, or the point at which the moon comes closet to the Earth during its elliptical orbit. The closeness and fullness combine to make the moon look particularly large at this time.
- Blood moon: Although blood has been shed during blood moons, and these celestial events have influenced the course of history, this name simply describes the reddish hue of the moon during a total lunar eclipse. The color is the result of sunlight filtered and refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere illuminating the moon.
- Super blood wolf moon: When a supermoon occurs in January and coincides with a total lunar eclipse.
- Perigee: The moon orbits around the Earth elliptically. The point in the orbit of the moon or a satellite at which it is nearest to the Earth is known as a perigee. When the moon is farthest from the Earth, it’s at its apogee. It takes about two weeks for the moon to travel from apogee to perigee.
- Syzygy: Pronounced SIZ-i-jee, this is not only a fantastic Scrabble word with an impressive dearth of vowels but a cool celestial occurrence. It refers to a conjunction, or an alignment in a straight line, of three celestial bodies bound by gravity. For example, during a solar or lunar eclipse when the Earth, sun, and moon are all aligned, that’s a syzygy.
- Perigee syzygy: When the moon is at its perigee and there’s a syzygy happening, aligning it with the sun and Earth, it’s called a perigee syzygy, also known as a supermoon.