22 Jan 2019

Overcast skies dim supermoon spectacle, but 2019's biggest one yet to come

10:03 am on 22 January 2019

Clouds rolling over might have dampened the spirits of star gazers trying to spot the supermoon last night, but there's yet a better spectacle on the way.

Earth's shadow almost totally obscures the view of the so-called Super Blood Wolf Moon during a total lunar eclipse.

Earth's shadow almost totally obscures the view of the so-called super blood wolf moon during a total lunar eclipse in Florida. Photo: Gaston De Cardenas / AFP

MetService forecaster Kyle Lee yesterday said the forecast suggested the east coast would be the best place to see the moon.

Astronomer and Otago Museum director Ian Griffin told Morning Report the "spectacle wasn't quite as exciting as it could've been" due to the weather.

"This whole supermoon thing seems to have taken off in the last few years, and last night's moon was about 14 percent bigger than what they call a micro moon - when the moon is further away from the Earth."

However, disappointed New Zealand night gazers can rejoice in the fact there's yet another even bigger one on the way.

"In fact the closest supermoon of the year is yet to come and that's the one that takes place in February. It's going to be ... about 900km closer to us than it was last night," Mr Griffin said.

Supermoons were actually quite common, he said.

"During the course of a year, there's 12 or 13 full moons and of those three or four will be what they call super moons."

He said the closest comparison of the difference in size for last night's moon would be like comparing a $1 coin and a $2 coin.

"The difference in size is there but it's quite difficult to see, especially when you're looking from one new moon and one full moon to the next."

The supermoon was a bit more clear for New Zealanders just before dawn as skies began to clear.

For those on the other side of the world, the supermoon also coincided with a total lunar eclipse, giving the moon a reddish colour.

The reddish color is due to rays of sunlight passing through Earth's dusty, polluted atmosphere as the moon falls into our planet's shadow. The shorter, more pliable blue wavelengths of light are scattered outside the Earth's shadow and the longer, less bendable red wavelengths are refracted toward the moon.

It has also earned the name "wolf moon" because it appears in January, when wolves would howl in hunger outside villages early in US history, according to The Farmers Almanac.

The next total lunar eclipse is set to happen in 2021 and will be visible across all of New Zealand - weather depending.

The best viewing of the one-hour total eclipse was from North and South America, with as many as 2.8 billion people able to see it from the Western Hemisphere, Europe, West Africa and northernmost Russia.

- RNZ / Reuters

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