By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. – Clear skies over the Pacific Northwest Sunday night offered primetime viewing for a rare, celestial double-feature show. In a combined supermoon and full lunar eclipse, not only did the moon appear slightly larger than usual, but it had a red hue to boot.
Neither astronomical event is unusual on its own, but their simultaneous occurrence is, said Washington State University astronomer Michael Allen. The last such event took place in 1982 and the next one won’t return until 2033.
This time around, the lunar appearance against a cloudless sky pulled Northwesterners away from dinner tables and onto decks, into back yards, atop rooftops and hills. WSU’s Jewett Observatory marked the event with public telescope viewing, although the eclipse was also easily visible to the naked eye.
When the moon rose after 6:30 p.m., it was in a partial eclipse. As it climbed in the sky, a total eclipse occurred, turning the moon a dusky red color. Nicknamed a blood moon, it is caused when scattered sunlight hits the moon’s surface as the earth moves between the moon and the sun.
The second part of the show – the supermoon – occurs when the moon is at its closest point to earth during its orbit, said Allen: At this point, the moon is about 26,000 miles closer than it is during its farthest point.