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How to View the First ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ since 1866


Credit NASA / Casey Davis The photo of a Sept. 27, 2015 super blood moon won a NASA social media photo contest with more than 8,000 submissions. Corey Davis said he was in his backyard with my wife and two children, enjoying the night and snapping pictures. He didn't realize he had captured an image of a plane in the super blood moon. He told NASA he's a novice photographer.
Credit NASA This NASA graphic shows stages of the Jan. 31, 2018 super blue blood moon in Pacific Time. Viewers in the West and Hawaii will see most or all of the lunar eclipse phases before dawn. The box shows "moonset" times for major cities across the U.S.

The last time a super blue blood moon was visible in North America, miners in Calaveras County claimed to have just discovered the notorious Calaveras Skull on Feb. 26, 1866.

Scientists say people here in the Mother Lode are among those who have the best seats in the continental U.S. to view this rarity early Wednesday, between 4:51 a.m. and 6:07 a.m. Pacific Time. The phenomenon is supposed to peak at 5:29 a.m.

It’s called a super blue blood moon because there will be three different things going on at the same time. It’s a super moon. It’s a blue

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The last time a super blue blood moon was visible in North America, miners in Calaveras County claimed to have just discovered the notorious Calaveras Skull on Feb. 26, 1866.

Scientists say people here in the Mother Lode are among those who have the best seats in the continental U.S. to view this rarity early Wednesday, between 4:51 a.m. and 6:07 a.m. Pacific Time. The phenomenon is supposed to peak at 5:29 a.m.

It’s called a super blue blood moon because there will be three different things going on at the same time. It’s a super moon. It’s a blue moon. It’s a blood moon. All at once.

+ A super moon is a full moon that looks bigger to people on Earth because it’s at perigee, the nearest point to Earth on its orbit. Super moons happen four to six times a year.

+ A blue moon occurs any time there are two full moons in a single calendar month. It does not refer to the moon’s color. Blue moons happen every two to three years.

+ A blood moon occurs when there is a total lunar eclipse. It refers to the pink-reddish color the moon takes on in total eclipse, as it’s illuminated by sunlight filtered and refracted by the earth's atmosphere. NASA says at any given location on Earth, lunar eclipses can happen as often as three times a year, but some years there may be none.

People here in the Golden State, Washington and Oregon will have some of the best views because they will be able to watch the total lunar eclipse from start to finish, all before sunrise.

The best way to see the super blue blood moon early Wednesday will be to step outside, get a clear view of the horizon, and look west-northwest. Scientists say there’s no need for protective glasses or cereal boxes with foil and pinholes because people can safely watch this event with their naked eyes.

‘Bad Moon Rising’

Superstition and folklore surrounding the moon are as old as humanity. Tens of thousands of years ago, before people could write, they sat up late and told each other stories about the glowing orb that tracked across the night sky, changing size, shape and color.

Ancient Greeks called their goddess of the moon “Selene” but early Romans who came after the Greeks called her “Luna.” Linguists today say the English words lunacy and lunatic come from the Latin luna because it’s been believed so long that people and animals are more likely to act out during a full moon.

Some studies show emergency room visits and accidents increase during full moon periods. A ThoughtCo.com piece titled “Myths and Legends of the Moon” notes there’s no conclusive evidence the full moon causes the spikes.

Some dogs, coyotes and wolves like to howl at a full moon. In Florida, an animal behavior expert reports hamsters like to run faster and “far more more aggressively” on their exercise wheels during a full moon phase. Deer and other wild herbivores tend to ovulate during full moons. Witches, werewolves, and some bird species are said to take their cues from full moons.

Moon buffs say the term “super moon” came from an astrologer, a person who studies positions and relationships of the sun, moon, stars and planets to judge their influence on human actions -- not from an astronomer, a scientific observer of celestial bodies. EarthSky.org notes the term has come into wide usage in recent years and it’s an example of modern folklore.

The phrase “once in a blue moon” retains traction because blue moons come around once every 2.7 years or so. Kasamba.com lists 10 blue moon superstitions that include:

+ Girls who stare at a blue moon can become pregnant by the moon and the child will be a monster.

+ Picking flowers and berries during a blue moon will bring abundance, love and beauty into your life.

+ To get rid of a wart, blow on it nine times while a blue moon is full.

Blood moon superstitions include apocalypse and so-called blood moon prophecies for the end of the world rooted in Biblical beliefs.

From April 2014 to September 2015, Christian ministers John Hagee and Mark Blitz gained notoriety for claiming a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses were a sign that end times, described in the Book of Joel in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, had commenced.

Back in 1866

The last time a super blue blood moon combination like this was visible in North America was March 31, 1866.

That means it was less than a month since those miners in Calaveras County said they found the Calaveras Skull near Angels Camp. That turned out to be a hoax.

Miners said they made it up to trick Josiah Whitney, California’s state geologist, who bit on the fakery and said the skull was so old it proved his theory that humans, mastodons and elephants had lived at the same time in California in the Pliocene Epoch, 2.5 million to 5.3 million years ago. In fact, homo sapiens first appeared about 200,000 years ago. The Mother Lode writer Bret Harte wrote a satirical poem about it, “To the Pliocene Skull.”

Also back in 1866 before the last super blue blood moon, Jesse James and his gang pulled off the first daylight bank robbery in U.S. history, on Feb. 13 in Liberty, Missouri. James' role was disputed in some accounts.

On March 13, 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first federal legislation to protect rights of African-Americans. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill on March 27 -- four days before the last super blue blood moon -- and Congress overrode the veto on April 9.

Carpe diem: set your alarm

To recap, people at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration say that if you live in the western part of North America, Alaska or the Hawaiian islands, you have a great chance to see a pre-dawn super blue blood moon early Wednesday.

Beginning at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Time, a live feed of the moon will be streaming on NASA TV and at NASA.gov/live. People can also follow at @NASAMoon.

For the continental U.S., viewing will be best in the West, said Gordon Johnston, a planetary program executive and lunar blogger at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Set your alarm early and go out and take a look,” Johnston said.

This super blue blood moon is expected to be special for three reasons. It’s the third in a sequence of super moons, when the moon is closer to Earth and about 14 percent brighter. It’s the second full moon of the month, so it’s a blue moon. The super blue moon will pass through Earth’s shadow and viewers in the right locations will see a total lunar eclipse. While the moon is in the Earth’s shadow, it will take on the reddish tint of a blood moon.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

Beginning at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Time, NASA will be streaming live coverage online with views from telescopes at Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the University of Arizona’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory, weather permitting. Go to www.nasa.gov/nasalive or https://twitter.com/NASAMoon.