Total lunar eclipse: Super blood wolf moon wows stargazers | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 21.01.2019
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Total lunar eclipse: Super blood wolf moon wows stargazers

Sky watchers have been making the most of a chance to see a total lunar eclipse with a difference. The phenomenon could be seen in North and South America, and across the Atlantic in western and northern Europe.

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The longest lunar eclipse of the century

In 2018 "Mondfinsternis," or lunar eclipse, was the top term among Google searches in German-speaking countries. According to Google trends, the Earth satellite was also at the top of the list. The question most people asked was: "Where is the moon?"

The reason for this enormous interest was  the "Super Blood Moon", which thousands could marvel at on a warm July 2018 evening in the southeastern sky.

Half a year later, on January 21, there was a chance to see the natural spectacle again. The best views were to be seen from Europe, North and South America and West Africa. Central and East Africa as well as Asia experienced only a partial lunar eclipse.

Read more: What you can see in space in 2019

Mondfinsternis 2018 | Türkei (picture-alliance/AA/A. Coskun)

An optical trick: The closer the moon is to the horizon, the bigger it appears

Into the shadow

In Germany the eclipse could be seen early, at around half past five in the morning local time. At 04:34 a.m., the moon entered the innermost part of the Earth's shadow, the umbra. The complete eclipse (lasting about an hour), began at 5:41 a.m., with the maximum eclipse at 06:12 a.m.

The moon had only risen 16 degrees above the horizon by the time of the total eclipse.

As with the last eclipse, in July 2018, there's good reason to see the phenomenon with the moon so low. Sunlight is refracted in the Earth's atmosphere and the short-wave blue light components are scattered in such a way that they do not reach the moon. Only the long-wave red rays can penetrate the atmosphere and indirectly illuminate the moon with red light.

Seen from Earth, the moon does not shine silver as usual, but copper red. That's why it's called "blood moon." The color intensity depends mainly on how much moisture, dust or other fine particles will be in the Earth's atmosphere.

The moon also appears larger than usual. This optical illusion is due to the fact that the moon is closer to Earth than usual - "only" 357,340 kilometers away. Another factor: Since the moon will hang relatively low over the horizon, it appears larger to us observers because of atmospheric refraction. 

Read more: China lands Chang'e-4 probe on 'dark' side of moon

How often can a lunar eclipse be seen?

The moon touches the shadow of the Earth, and thus "creates" a lunar eclipse, two-and-a-half times a year on average. But there isn't always a total lunar eclipse. That only comes about when a full moon completely falls into the umbra.

In Germany a partial lunar eclipse can be observed on July 16 during the first half of the night.

There will also be a total solar eclipse on July 2, but it can only be observed in South America. Then, a ring-shaped solar eclipse will be seen over Asia on December 26.

The next total lunar eclipse over Germany will be in May 2022. But the moon will set just when the total eclipse would occur and will therefore not be visible from Europe. The next total lunar eclipse that you can see from Germany will only be on December 31, 2028. 

Read about the moon's facts and figures: Spectacular moon theatrics

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