Skip to main content

What’s with all these solar system events?

ASU Now asked an expert why we're hearing so much about the moon and eclipses lately

January 30, 2018

From the 2017 total solar eclipse to this week’s super blue blood moon, we’ve heard a lot recently about once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events in our solar system.

ASU Now spoke with Patrick Young, an astrophysicist and associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, to learn more about what’s behind all the news. 

Question: What is going on with the moon this week?

Answer: This week we will have a long string of impressive adjectives. We have a super blue blood moon. Taking those one at a time: A super moon is simply a slightly brighter moon than usual. That happens because the moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and sometimes it’s a little closer to the Earth and sometimes a little further away. On nights when the moon is closer, we get a moon that is 5 to 7 percent brighter than average.

As far as the blue moon part, that’s what happens when we have two full moons in a month.

The blood moon is the most visually impressive part. This will also be a total lunar eclipse. And that is going to be very nice to see because it will be obvious. In the morning of Jan. 31, just a bit before sunrise, from our vantage point, the moon is going to pass into the Earth’s shadow and it will appear a dark red.

Q: Over the past year, we’ve heard a lot about one-in-a-lifetime lunar and solar events. Is there something going on or are we just paying more attention to our solar system?

A: It’s a little bit of both. The event that is happening this month with the moon, any one of those individual things happens fairly often, but having all three of them at once happens about once every 150 years.

Then, last year, the big thing of course was the total solar eclipse. Those are not especially rare. What was rare was having it happen over the United States and having it crossing the entire country. Often, they are visible in other parts of the world. They might travel across South America or Asia, or even the Arctic or Antarctic, which are generally pretty inconvenient. The last one that crossed the entire U.S. was 1918, but we’re lucky because in 2024, there’s going to be another one that crosses the country from South to North.

Thanks to that solar eclipse, pretty much everything that’s happened in the sky has gotten a lot more attention over the past year.

Q: What’s the best way to see this week’s moon action?

A: As far as a super moon goes, the main difference is that it’s just a little larger and brighter. Having a special instrument isn’t going to change much. You could get a tiny bit more detail if you were looking at it though a telescope, but I recommend looking at the moon when it’s not full because that way you get shadows and you can see things like mountains and craters more clearly defined.

As far as the eclipse goes, just watching it with your naked eye is spectacular. If you use binoculars or a telescope, you can see more detail on the surface, which is a cool thing to do when it’s this strange red color. It’s also a good target for photography without any particular specialized equipment. If you just have a digital SLR or mirrorless camera, you can get some very nice photos. I’ve even seen good ones done with an iPhone. It’s also fun to take a sequence of shots, so you have the evolution of the eclipse over time from when it starts, to the peak, to when it ends.

If you are interested in super moons, this is the last one for the year. It’s also the last lunar eclipse visible from our location for the year.

READ MORE: How to celebrate the special moon event on campus.

More Science and technology


A hand holding a pile of dirt next to an insect.

Advances in forensic science improve accuracy of ‘time of death’ estimates

Accurate “time of death” estimates are a mainstay of murder mysteries and forensic programs, but such calculations in the real world are often complex and imprecise. In a first-of-its-kind study,…

ASU assistant professor of chemical engineering Kailong Jin in a lab

Unpacking a plastic paradox

Demand for plastics exists in a constant paradox: thin yet strong, cheap yet sophisticated, durable yet degradable.  The various traits of plastics are determined by the polymer used to make the…

Two people wearing protective clothing work in a lab

New chief operations officer to help ramp up SWAP Hub advancements

Last September, the Southwest Advanced Prototyping Hub — a collaboration of more than 130 industry partners led by Arizona State University — received nearly $40 million as part of the CHIPS and…