Science

The night of a Blue Moon, Blood Moon and a total lunar eclipse

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 30, 2018

A file photo of the ‘blood moon’ where the moon appears bigger and brighter than usual.   -  REUTERS

Watch out for the celestial spectacle on January 31

What is a ‘Blood Moon’ and will India have the opportunity of watching this rare occurence along with the total lunar eclipse on January 31? With the net, social media abuzz with the rare celestial phenomenon, the question assumes importance. The last time the skies presented such a show to India and Asia was in December 1982, when a total solar eclipse and Blue Moon coincided.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes in between the Sun and the Moon. In other words, the earth’s shadow will fall on the Moon. When the three are almost exactly on the same line we call it a total lunar eclipse.

During a total lunar eclipse some of the Sun’s rays get refracted through the earth’s atmosphere and strike the Moon. This in turn results in a low brown red glow. This is what will happen on 31st January . Some people call this the Blood Moon.

Giving this explanation, noted Astrophysicist and long term Director of the BM Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad, BG Sidharth said this time the total lunar eclipse will be visible and can be seen from everywhere in India.

Celestial spectacle

There are two more features coinciding in the celestial event. This is the second Full Moon in the month, which again is often called a Blue Moon. However, it should be noted that it has nothing to do with the blue colour, says Siddharth. “Further, the positions and distances of the Moon and the Earth relative to the Sun on this occasion are such that the Moon would appear slightly bigger-about 10 per cent or more and so a little brighter on this day. Such an occurence is called a Super Moon,” he added.

So at what time will the spectacle begin? The total lunar eclipse will commence at 5: 20 PM with what is called the partial shadow or Penumbra of the earth’s shadow striking the Moon. This is not a significant sight, the Astrophysicist comments.

The main eclipse will start around 6:25 PM after the sun sets. This can be seen in the Eastern sky as the Moon would have just risen by then. A slight sliver of the Moon first gets covered in what is described as the Umbra, the total shadow and slowly this spreads for several minutes and after that it will recede. In an hour’s time, around 7:25 PM the main part of the eclipse will be over, Sidharth narrated.

No truth in superstitions

Referring to the superstitions surrounding eclipses, Sidharth said there is no scientific basis for beliefs that during a total lunar eclipse the digestion gets affected as some of the Moon’s rays are blocked and so one must not eat anything for the entire length of the eclipse.

Its quite a practise in many homes to follow this ‘no eat policy’ and some even resort to covering the utensils covering food with some leaves and grass which supposedly can ward off the bad effects of the eclipse.

“The total lunar eclipse in practise could lead to slightly higher tides in rivers and seas that day but nothing very alarming,” says Siddharth.

Published on January 30, 2018

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