understand everything about these phenomena

Much more real than the pink super moon that made headlines a few weeks ago, the total lunar eclipse that hit either Wednesday the 26th.

Despite the media hype that always accompanies these events, they actually occur quite frequently (once or twice a year) and while they are always interesting to watch for both beginners and more experienced enthusiasts, they do not bring much scientific interest.

But then what is a lunar eclipse or sometimes called a “blood moon”? In reality, the moon takes on this copper color, which is unusual for our satellite, when it is in a certain position relative to the earth and the sun. At this moment the moon is actually in the shadow of the earth and the rays of the sun that reach it are therefore diverted from our planet. Instead of being white or slightly yellow as usual, the moon turns orange because of this earth’s shadow.

On this Wednesday, the solar eclipse, which was mainly visible from the North American continent, was “total”, which means that the entire moon happened in the shadow of the earth. The phenomenon lasted about ten minutes and allowed the lucky few who had clear skies to observe the reddening of the moon for a few minutes before it gradually turned a more classic color.

A “super moon” next to a classic full moon © Marco Langbroek

What is a super moon?

The term is not very scientific and ultimately refers to something very common. The “supermons” can be observed quite regularly and, compared to the media exposure they received, often even disappointing. Simply put, this event occurs when our satellite is closest to us – at its perigee – and the moon is “full”. In fact, our satellite does not rotate perfectly around the earth, but follows an elliptical orbit. So there are days, in this case nights, when the moon is more or less close to us. Therefore, when the moon is as close to the earth as possible, we speak of its perigee, when it is furthest, we speak of its apogee.

During the “supermoon” it is not really bigger than on the other days. It is only a little closer to us than usual. The size difference is nevertheless very fine (approx. 7% for a “classic” full moon) and therefore very difficult to see with the naked eye. Most of the photos taken at such events and circulating on the Internet are retouched to give the star an unusual size.

When is the next extraordinary solar eclipse?

Although lunar eclipses are quite common, they are interesting and many amateur astronomers roll their eyes on these nights. In France, the next lunar eclipse should only be a partial and will take place on June 10th. The next major lunar event is planned for June 26th, 2029, the moon will then be perfectly aligned with the earth and sun and cause a central total eclipse, a phenomenon that occurs only once per century.

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