Blue moon over ‘Boro

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 6:09 PM
Blue moon over ‘Boro by Nathan Hirth
Photo: Nathan Hirth

Several adventurous souls found their way through the maze of hallways within the Cooper Science Hall, the planetarium serving as the quest’s destination. The reward for completion? An in-depth look at what made the moon so special that night.

The moon themed show, justly named “Once in a Blue Moon,” centered around the rare occurrence of there being a blue moon, a supermoon and a lunar eclipse all at once. Organized and presented by Dr. David Hurd, the planetarium director, the event drew close to a full house on Tuesday, Jan. 30 despite the cold. 

Through the course of the show, Hurd explained the three different lunar phenomena that were occurring later that night and into the following morning, beginning with the term “blue moon.” While a blue moon might sound like something quite interesting, it’s not actually that rare of an occurrence, nor is it an actual scientific term. It simply refers to the second full moon in the same month, with this occurring again in March. Beyond that, there’s nothing particularly special about blue moons, and they’re certainly not blue, Hurd noted. 

While a blue moon might sound like something quite interesting, it’s not actually that rare of an occurrence, nor is it an actual scientific term. It simply refers to the second full moon in the same month, with this occurring again in March. Beyond that, there’s nothing particularly special about blue moons, and they’re certainly not blue, Hurd noted. 

The blue moon observed did appear larger due to it being a supermoon, which means that it was at a point in its orbit that brought it closer to Earth than normal. Because the moon orbits Earth on an elliptical path, there are times when it’s closer than at other times, called the perigee. A supermoon occurs when there is a full moon and it is at the perigee, making it appear up to 14 percent larger.

And finally, there was also a complete lunar eclipse. That means that during its orbit, this blue supermoon entered the shadow, or umbral, that is cast by Earth from the sun. When that happened, Earth was blocking the moon from receiving any light directly from the sun.

For those in northwest Pennsylvania, the eclipse wasn’t visible here until the moon was just about ready to set in the wee hours of the next morning. 

As Hurd explained, several things must line up for any one of these three phenomena to occur. And to have all three occur at once is incredibly rare; the last time it happened was 152 years ago in 1866.

There will be many more chances throughout the semester to learn about astronomy. Several more events are planned for the planetarium, with the next one, “The Stars are Ours,” taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. The shows are open to students and the public, though reservations are required because of limited space. More information on future shows can be found on the university’s website.

Nathan Hirth can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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