Residents and visitors to the West Coast will be privy to a pre-dawn celestial treat Wednesday morning, and all it takes is waking up a little early and turning your eyes to the night’s sky.
The rare lunar trifecta of a “super blue blood moon” last occurred in December 1982, according to NASA scientists, but one hasn’t been visible from the United States since before the University of California was founded in 1868.
In other words, if you’re on the West Coast, it’s time to set those alarm clocks.
The combined components that make the event worth seeing are the moon being full and on its closest approach of orbit to Earth, known as a supermoon, as well as completely blocked from the sun by the Earth, with only limited light escaping to display a reddish hue on its cratered surface — a blood moon.
Add in that it’s the second full moon in a single month, metaphorically referred to as a blue moon, and you’ve got one special occasion.
“This really gives you a chance to see the cosmic ballet, the dance between the Earth, the sun and the moon, and you get see it play out,” said Scott Severson, professor of physics and astronomy at Sonoma State University, and director of the campus observatory. “It’s a beautiful show, and it happens in a supermoon so it’s bigger in the sky.”
NASA predicts the moon will be about 14 percent brighter than usual because of its nearer proximity — some 226,000 miles away from our planet rather than 252,000 miles.
The lunar eclipse technically begins at 2:51 a.m. PST, when the moon will start to darken ahead of gradually turning an orange-red color a bit before 5 o’clock.
If you’re not much in the way of an early bird, the experts recommend the best chance to watch will be between roughly 5 and 6 a.m.
Before that window with the totality of the eclipse, the moon will wax into a crescent until it fully takes on its coppery hue.
“It’ll look like a bite taken out of it,” said Keith Waxman, astronomy instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College. “It will look really neat just before totality, at around 4:30, because part of it will be dark and the other part reddish. It’ll be really strange, really interesting.”
After about 6:15 a.m. local time, the effects of twilight as the sun begins to rise will muddle the marvel and you’ll have missed it, though it’s not officially over until 8:08 a.m. So avoid hitting snooze.
There’s one more piece that’s appealing, if not convenient, of this limited, one-night-only engagement: Most anyone in Sonoma County will be able to see it all right from their backyard.
“With lunar eclipses you don’t have to travel to a remote part of the Earth,” said Severson. “To feel tied to the universe in a way, you don’t have to go camping or get to a telescope or a star party. The supermoon eclipse is rare and you should cherish the time that you get it.”
Anna Schneider, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, said the forecast for early Wednesday morning calls for some fog in Santa Rosa and the North Bay, perhaps obscuring the view for moon-gazers.