Super Flower Blood Moon: what is it and where can you see it?
Late on Sunday and early on Monday, people in the US will be able to witness a total lunar eclipse known as the Super Flower Blood Moon.
April might have served up a ‘Black Moon’, but in true hold-my-beer fashion, May is about to treat sky gazers in the US - and many other countries - to the flamboyantly-named phenomenon that is the ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’.
As one AS colleague put it: WTF is that? Well, the short answer is this: in lunar terms, ‘super’ + ‘flower’ + ‘blood’ = a total eclipse of the Moon in the month of May, at a time when the full Moon is at, or near to, its closest point to the Earth. For the long answer, let’s take it word by word.
May’s full Moon, which Time and Date says will be at its fullest at 12:14am ET on Monday 16 May, will qualify as a ‘Supermoon’. Coined by the astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979, the term refers to a new or full Moon that comes to within 90% of perigree, the satellite’s closest position relative to the Earth. According to NASA, a full Supermoon appears about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a full Moon at its apogee, or furthest point from the Earth.
Why does the Moon’s distance vary? Because its orbit of the Earth is oval-shaped rather than circular, causing it to move closer and further away from our planet as it travels around it.
‘Flower Moon’ is among the Native American names that the Maine Farmers’ Almanac began publishing for each month’s Moon in the 1930s. May’s Moon is known as ‘Flower’ because, as the Old Farmers’ Almanac explains, “In most areas of the northern hemisphere, flowers are abundant in late spring. Blossoms of brilliant color burst forth in both tree and meadow.” Traditionally used by Native Americans to keep track of the seasons, the Moon names for each month are:
As mentioned above, we’re to witness a total lunar eclipse - a phenomenon that takes place when the Earth, the Sun and the Moon align in a way that leaves the whole of the Moon in the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, known as the umbra. The word ‘blood’ refers to the reddish hue the Moon will take on from our perspective during the eclipse, because of the way the Sun’s light waves interact with our atmosphere before reaching the Moon.
So when can you see the Super Flower Blood Moon?
In the US, the Super Flower Blood Moon will occur late on Sunday 15 May/early on Monday 16 May, with the total lunar eclipse reaching its peak at 12:12am ET/9:12pm PT. While the whole country will be able to see the eclipse at its peak - depending on the weather, of course - those on the west coast will miss its early stages, because the Moon will still be below the horizon at that point.
According to NASA, the ET timings of the total lunar eclipse are as follows:
- 10:27pm: partial eclipse phase begins (Moon begins entering the umbra)
- 11:29pm: total eclipse phase begins (Moon now inside the umbra)
- 12:12am: total lunar eclipse reaches peak
- 12:53am: total eclipse phase ends (Moon begins exiting the umbra)
- 1:55am: partial eclipse phase ends (Moon leaves umbra completely)
Unlike a solar eclipse, you do not need special glasses to watch a lunar eclipse. The eclipse will also be fully visible in South America, and in some of Canada, Central America, Africa and Europe. Take a look at NASA’s visibility map.
Super Flower Blood Moon: Follow NASA’s live stream
Beginning at 9:32pm ET, NASA will be broadcasting a YouTube live stream covering the total lunar eclipse. “Join NASA experts to learn about this incredible natural phenomenon, look through telescope views across the world, and hear about plans to return humans to the lunar surface with the Artemis program,” the space agency says.