LOS ANGELES: Skywatchers howled at the moon at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles when the full lunar eclipse appeared shortly after 9pm Pacific time on Sunday (Jan 20) and our celestial neighbour was bathed reddish-orange during a Super Blood Wolf Moon.
"Amazing. As you can see, it's a party atmosphere and everyone is just enjoying the spectacle," said Rosalind Von Wendt from Los Angeles.
More than 1,500 people gathered at the observatory near the city's famous Hollywood sign to watch the eclipse.
However, not everyone got to watch the cosmic show, with lunar eclipse parties cancelled elsewhere due to a flash freeze across the central and northeastern United States. Icy roadways rather than cloudy skies were blamed by astronomers for spoiling the festivities.
In Los Angeles, where the weather was markedly warmer and skies cleared just in time, skywatchers were treated to a full spectacle of the Earth casting its shadow over the moon's face.
"Oh it was fantastic, it was great," said Brad Mortensen, from Philadelphia, Pa. "This was a great location. The observatory is always fun to visit so tonight when we heard about this we decided to come up."
The moon did not vanish entirely during the total eclipse but, at its height, the entire lunar surface was bathed in a reddish-orange glow that gives rise to the Blood Moon description.
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.
Adding to the visual effect is the fact that the eclipse occurred at a time when the moon reached a point in its orbit putting it close to Earth, an alignment called a supermoon.
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.
DEEP FREEZE SPOILS PARTY
Sunday's eclipse reached its maximum effect over Los Angeles shortly after 9pm Pacific time (0500 GMT Monday), but not everyone on the West Coast had a clear view. It rained in San Francisco and San Diego had cloudy skies.
Astronomy buffs were urged to watch the eclipse livestreamed online at sites such as AstronomersWithoutBorders.org.
It seemed days earlier that cloudy skies would be the biggest threat to the cosmic fun, but it turned out a wet, wide-ranging snowstorm followed by a deep freeze on Sunday made driving and outdoor activities too hazardous.
Eclipse parties were canceled from Indiana's Lemon Lake County Park to New Jersey's Rowan University.
"It's not the snow or cloudy skies but, rather, the extreme cold and what we fear may be hazardous travel conditions," said Pennsylvania's Carbon County Environmental Center, which scrapped its party in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, 54 miles (86 km) northwest of Allentown.
The eclipse was otherwise visible to the naked eye by anyone in the United States where skies were clear. That included Atlanta, Ga, where only the determined went outside in freezing temperatures to watch.
Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires eye protection to enjoy the view safely, no extra measures need to be taken for hazard-free lunar eclipse watching.
The next chance for Americans to see a total lunar eclipse is 2022.
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.
WHY IT HAPPENS?
The full Moon will appear bigger than normal because it is closer to the Earth - about 222,000 miles (358,000 kilometers) away - which earns it the nickname "Super Moon."
Other monikers include a Wolf Moon, a traditional way of coining an eclipse in the month of January, and a Blood Moon because of its rusty, red color. Hence the name for this year's event: a "Super Blood Wolf Moon."
At the peak of the eclipse, and if the night skies are clear of clouds, Venus and Jupiter should be shining brightly in the night sky.
Monday at 0334 GMT, or 4.34am in France or 10.34pm in Quebec, the partial eclipse will begin as the Moon passes into Earth's shadow.
In the United States, the edge of the Moon will begin to fall into shadow at about 7.33pm on the West Coast and 1033pm on the East Coast, according to NASA.
From 0441 to 0543 GMT: for an hour and two minutes, the Moon will be entirely in Earth's shadow. But the Moon will not be invisible: it will appear tinted in hues of red, orange and pink.
At 0651 GMT, the Moon will be completely out of the Earth's shadow.
WHERE IS IT VISIBLE FROM?
Europe and West Africa will have a good view of the eclipse, but not all the way until the end. Eastern Europe will see the beginning of totality, but not the end. North Africa and West Africa should see the end of totality, but will miss the final phases of the eclipse.
The entire eclipse should be visible in North America, Central America and South America, as well as France, Belgium and Spain.
That is, as long as the view is not obscured by clouds.
If conditions are cloudy where you are, NASA recommends checking out a live stream of the eclipse at https://www.timeanddate.com/live/
During a lunar eclipse, the Moon appears red because the light of the Sun no longer directly illuminates it, since Earth is passing in between the Moon and Sun.
"The color is due to Rayleigh scattering - where the Sun's blue light is scattered off molecules in Earth's atmosphere - which also happens at sunsets," explained the Royal Astronomical Society of Britain.
"The Sun's red light is scattered much less by air, and is bent by Earth's atmosphere in a process called refraction, traveling all the way through it to light up the Moon's surface."
LAST ECLIPSE THIS DECADE
Total or partial lunar eclipses happen at least twice a year on average, Florent Deleflie, an astronomer at the Observatory of Paris-PSL told reporters. It's just that they are not visible everywhere.
It's a rare event when a total lunar eclipse is visible on so many parts of the Earth's land mass, as is the case Monday.
Europeans last saw a total lunar eclipse in July 2018. The next chance for a glimpse at a lunar eclipse will be in 2022, but the entire continent won't be able to see the totality of a lunar eclipse again until 2029.
North Americans may get their next glimpse of a blood moon in 2021 along the West coast and 2022 on the East coast.