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The moon is seen during a lunar eclipse in July 2018. Xinhua News Agency/PA Images
up early

Irish stargazers will be able to view a rare 'super wolf blood moon' on Monday

It’s the only lunar eclipse viewable in Ireland this year.

STARGAZERS WILL HAVE a chance to view a rare ‘super wolf blood moon’ early on Monday morning.

The moon will be closer to Earth and appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual — a phenomenon known as a supermoon. At the same time, we’ll have the only total lunar eclipse of the year. 

“What that means is that the moon will turn from an extremely bright full moon, to a very thin blood-red moon” David Moore, founder of Astronomy Ireland, explained. 

The moon will be in the Earth’s shadow, with most of the sunlight cut-off to it, “except this tiny amount that leaks around the Earth”.

In the same way the sky glows after a sunset, it’s the glow of the collective sunsets and sunrises around the Earth “feebly lighting up the moon, that only an hour earlier was the brightest it can be in the sky”.

Why is it ‘super’ and ‘wolf’?

Though it’s true that the supermoon appears a little larger on nights when this phenomenon happens, Moore likened it to moving up two rows of seats towards the screen in a cinema.

“It would be that noticeable,” he said – so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when an event like this happened last. 

Culturally, Native North American names are popular in moon-naming, and January is known as the ‘wolf moon’, Moore explained. 

The ‘total’ phase is the best time to view the event – so at about 5:15am on Monday, and a half-hour either side of that. 

“The naked eye is all you need,” said Moore – but a pair of binoculars will always get you that little bit closer. 

Other things to look out for 

“The things to watch out for during totality is, just how red does the moon get?” said Moore.

Sometimes it’s red, sometimes dim, but it can also have blue and white tinges, he said – so it’s worth taking a good look.

I like the part where the moon is going into the Earth’s shadow, so we get the curved edge of the Earth’s shadow, crossing the front part of the moon. 

Once the moon is totally eclipsed, it’s about a million times dimmer than when it’s full, making a cluster of stars called the Beehive Cluster just visible just above it. 

“You won’t see it when the full moon’s next to it.”

Just as the eclipse is ending – coming up to 6am – towards the east, Venus will be rising with Jupiter extremely close to it. 

“These are the two brightest star-like objects in the sky,” said Moore. 

“They’re the closest the morning after, but pretty close on the morning of the eclipse itself. That’s a rare treat as well.”

This can also be seen with the naked eye. 

“The next eclipse is at least a decade away, where the whole thing is visible from start to finish in Ireland, so it’s a long wait if you miss this one,” said Moore. 

He reminded people not to be put off by the weather, as “someone will get a break in the clouds somewhere”.

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