Wednesday evening be sure to look up into the sky to catch a glimpse of the first in a series of spectacular astronomical happenings.It’s called the Super Flower Blood Moon, and it gets its name from a few different phenomena occurring at the same time.
A supermoon happens at perigee, when the moon’s orbit is closest to the Earth, making the moon look larger than life; the full moon in May is called the Flower Moon; and a Blood Moon occurs when the moon is in the Earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse often happens about twice a year, but Steve Fentress, director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium at Rochester Museum and Science Center, said while it’s relatively common, it’s still remarkable.
“The alignment has to be just right because the Earth’s shadow is a long, long, long thin pencil point and the moon has to go right through it,” Fentress said.
We’ll see the supermoon from here, but not the Blood Moon. That will be visible from the west coast. We also won't see the lunar eclipse -- but we will see the phenomenon it's creating.
Two weeks from now, on June 10, said Fentress, there will be something astonishing.
“The sun will rise as a thin crescent at about 5:30 in the morning and then the moon will gradually uncover the sun and it will be all over at about 20 minutes to 7,” he said.
A solar eclipse. At dawn.
Solar eclipses usually follow or precede a lunar eclipse by a few weeks because of the orbits of the moon and Earth, Fentress said.
“Here we are at sunrise with the Earth spinning and the sun appearing higher in the sky as the Earth turns towards it, at the same time the moon is moving between the Earth and the sun and blocking some of the sun towards us,” said Mark Minarich, president of the astronomy section of the Rochester Academy of Science.
The astronomy group would usually hold stargazing events at RMSC, said Minarich, but with the pandemic, that’s on hold.
“You could actually spread the virus eye-to-eye through eyepieces,” Minarich said.
If you want to check out the solar eclipse on June 10, RMSC is holding viewings at Hamlin Beach Park and Martin Road Park in Henrietta. No shared eyepieces required.
No matter where you go to catch a glimpse of the crescent sunrise, eclipse glasses are essential to protect your eyes.
A girl looks through eclipse glasses at a solar eclipse in the RMSC garden on August 21, 2017.
Credit Felícia Swartzenberg
There is a risk of missing it. Rochester is known for many cloudy days, but Fentress says that doesn’t have to stop you.
“There are people who chase eclipses and they get weather satellite apps on their phone and look at where the holes in the clouds are a couple of hours before and then get in the car and stomp on the gas and go head for that hole.”
Such was the case in 2017, when a total solar eclipse was visible through parts of the U.S.
It’s called totality — when the sun’s light is fully engulfed in the shadow of the moon.
Both Minarich and Fentress traveled to the midwest to see it. Fentress took video of the event. Minarich says it was life-changing and otherworldly.
“Having the sky darken to where it’s not quite black but it’s a very, very deep blue. And there’s twilight all around you,” Minarich said. “All the crickets start chirping, the cows go back to the barns, the air is 10 degrees cooler for those few minutes that you’re in totality.”
Rochester and the western New York region will be in the path of a total eclipse of the sun in 2024. It will be the first time since 1925.
Until then, Fentress said now’s a good time to get acquainted with these celestial bodies.
“It’s bigger than any of us and we can all look at it together,” said Fentress. “We’ve got so many things, so many horrible things to think about, so many small things to worry about. Here are things that are mysteries equally to all of us. The sky is available to everyone.”