It’ll be a busy night for werewolves. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, January 31, Earthlings will witness the convergence of three noteworthy lunar events: A total lunar eclipse (also called a “blood moon” for its reddish tint), which will be visible across much of North America, Asia, and Australia; a “blue moon,” defined as the second full moon in a month with two full moons; and a “supermoon,” which occurs when the full or new moon comes closest to Earth. The result—the fabulous-sounding “Super Blue Blood Moon”—is the first such event we’ve seen since 1866, when Andrew Johnson, later impeached, was President of the United States.
Anyhoo . . . this Super Blue Blood Moon—big deal? Sort of. Tuesday’s moon will look about 7 percent bigger than a typical full moon. As a science-savvy friend wrote on Facebook, “To grasp the enormity of this event, hold an aspirin tablet at arm’s length—that’s the size of the moon in the sky—then move it two inches closer. Notice the difference? Didn’t think so.” Killjoy.
No matter how you feel about it, this is the last Super Blue Blood Moon we’ll see until 2028, and that’s surely worth a raised glass or three. And to celebrate, we’ve assembled 5 totally random cocktail-party factoids about our closest celestial neighbor so you can impress the sleep-deprived guests at your watch party.
1. The moon is about one-quarter the diameter of Earth, but that’s still bigger than Pluto and only slightly smaller than Mercury, leading some space scientists to call the Earth-moon pair a “double-planet system.”
2. In July of 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft—carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—took just 51 hours and 49 minutes to get from Florida to the moon.
3. Throughout the month, the moon is between 225,309 and 251,903 miles from Earth. Each year, it drifts 1.5 inches farther from Earth. Even so, the moon’s gravitational pull, the same force that causes the tides to rise and fall each day, is sapping some of Earth’s rotational energy in the process, slowing the planet by 1.5 milliseconds each century.
4. During daytime hours, temperatures on the lunar surface hover around 225° Fahrenheit (107°C). At night, they plunge all the way to –243°F (–153° C). Bring a sweater.
5. Throughout history, the moon’s light and dark contours have prompted humans around the world to identify familiar shapes—or “lunar pareidolia”—on its surface. The best-known of these is the “Man in the Moon,” whose facial features are formed by vast, smooth lava fields: Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis make the eyes, Sinus Aestuum forms the nose, and Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum create the open mouth.
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