The Cal Poly Astronomical Society will provide viewing methods and snacks for students and community members who join them on the morning of Jan. 31, to watch the lunar eclipse. David Majors | Courtesy Photo

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Cal Poly’s Astronomical Society, San Luis Obispo community astronomers and students fascinated by the stars will gather and witness what is being referred to as the “super blue blood moon.”

The Astronomical Society is a campus club that plans events that include stargazing and viewing rocket launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

“It is a very self-guided thing, in a sense, because you don’t have to be a professional to get involved in astronomy,” physics sophomore and Astronomical Society President Tatiana Gibson said.

On Wednesday from 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., the society will be hosting a lunar eclipse viewing event that is open to the public. The society will set up several telescopes near the north entrance of the Science building (building 52).  According to Gibson, there will be hot drinks and snacks provided.

Members of the Central Coast Astronomical Society (CCAS) will also be in attendance and encourage any and all students to come witness the night sky. Additionally, CCAS Outreach Coordinator David Majors recommended brining personal binoculars, if possible, to optimize viewing.

What is a “super blue blood moon?”

As Gibson explained, a super moon occurs when the moon is slightly closer to earth in its orbit, which makes the moon appear to be larger and 30 percent brighter. A blue moon refers to a second full moon of the month, and is just a coincidence of the calendar, not an astronomical phenomenon. A blood moon is a term often used to describe a total lunar eclipse, which is when the moon, Earth and sun align so the sun’s light shines through Earth’s atmosphere and is reflected on the moon, causing the moon to turn a bright red.

Although each lunar event alone is not rare, physics professor David Mitchell said that all three occurrences — super moon, blue moon and lunar eclipse — land on the same day about every 100 years or so.

“From a practical standpoint, [this] eclipse will last a little longer simply because the moon is a little bit deeper in the Earth’s shadow than it usually is, [because it is a supermoon],” Majors said.

The lunar eclipse has six phases, which will occur from 2:51 a.m. to 8:08 a.m., according to Majors, who has been a part of the society for 12 years. Advanced technology is required to see the first phase and the last two phases will not be visible from San Luis Obispo.

However, when the “first contact” phase begins at 3:48 a.m., people will be able to see a sliver of darkness, the Earth’s shadow, cast over the moon. The moon will continue to move into Earth’s shadow until fully covered. Around 4:51 a.m., if the sky is clear, Majors said the moon will appear to be bright red.

Fascination with the stars

More than 1,000 people were interested in the event, according to the society’s Facebook event.

Mitchell attributes students’ interest in astronomy to its accessibility and the possibility for new discoveries in the night sky.

“It’s something that people connect with, right? It is something you can go outside and do yourself; you can go outside and see interesting things,” Mitchell said. “And quite honestly, it is the one area of science where you can go outside with a telescope, just anybody, and actually contribute to science.”

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