Stargazers across the Pacific cast their eyes skyward on Wednesday to witness a rare “super blood moon,” as the heavens aligned to bring a spectacular lunar eclipse.
The first total lunar eclipse in two years took place at the same time as the moon was closest to Earth, in what astronomers say is a once-in-a-decade show.
Some residents of Japan were able to catch a glimpse the eclipse, though cloudy or rainy weather made viewing difficult across wide areas of the country.
Skygazers in areas with clear skies were treated to the rare celestial show, lasting around 20 minutes, with the full eclipse beginning from 8:09 p.m. According to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the shadow of the Earth first started eclipsing the moon at 6:44 p.m. Unlike a solar eclipse, the phenomenon was safely visible to the naked eye.
Twitter went abuzz with some users posting photos of the astronomical phenomenon, while others lamented they could not see it clearly because of cloudy skies in their areas.
As the Earth’s atmosphere acts like a lens, the moon was not blacked out but appeared in different shades ranging from bright orange to a darkish tint, depending on conditions such as atmospheric dust.
When the moon makes its closest approach, known as a perigee, and it coincides with a phenomenon where the Earth, Sun and moon are aligned, a supermoon appears. At that point, it can appear 30% brighter and 14% larger than at its farthest point — a difference of around 50,000 kilometers.
The next time a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Japan will be Nov. 8, 2022. The last time it was observed was in July 2018, but is it the first time since September 1997 that a total lunar eclipse has coincided with a supermoon in Japan.
In Sydney, where a crisp night gave onlookers a clear view, people gathered on the shoreline of the city’s harbor to catch a glimpse as the moon rose over the sails of the Opera House.
“Last time there was a supermoon, last month, we missed it,” Ken Loi, 50, said.
“This time it’s with the eclipse as well, so you’ve got a double whammy — so you better catch it before it’s too late.”
“Interest has been high,” said Andrew Jacobs, curator of astronomy at Sydney Observatory, which hosted a viewing event with telescopes and expert speakers.
Australian airline Qantas performed a one-off, two-and-a-half-hour “Supermoon Scenic Flight” heading east from Sydney over the Pacific for an unobstructed view of the southern sky.
In Hong Kong, however, the view was partially obscured by clouds.
“It’s not as red as I thought. I saw a photo and the moon was very red, but now it’s not that red,” said primary school student Chui Yiu-chun, who was trying to catch a glimpse from the city’s harborfront.
Jacobs earlier predicted the best view would be in “Australia, New Zealand, and large parts of the Pacific. New Guinea also gets a good view.”
“The Americas see it in the early morning, but they don’t necessarily see all parts of the eclipse,” he said.
“Europe and Africa and the Middle East are missing out completely, on this particular one.”
Lunar eclipses have not always been so warmly received in history. In many cultures both lunar and solar eclipses were seen as harbingers of doom.
The Inca believed a lunar eclipse occurred when a jaguar had eaten the moon. Some Aboriginal Australian groups believed it signaled someone on a journey had been hurt or killed.
In “King Lear” William Shakespeare warned that “eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us.”
But so far no apocalyptic consequences have been recorded from these celestial shows.
The next super blood moon is expected to take place in 2033.
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