This Friday, July 27, a rare lunar event could set off a summer 2017 solar eclipse-level frenzy (who could forget those glasses?) across the globe. While it won’t be visible to the naked eye in the U.S., the upcoming total lunar eclipse will cast most of the rest of the world in a red-tinted shadow.
Here’s the story behind this exciting excuse to sneak out of the house, blanket in hand, and look up at the night sky.
What causes lunar eclipses?
Lunar eclipses happen when the earth sits directly in between the sun and full moon, blocking the sun’s light from hitting the moon and therefore shifting how the night sky appears on Earth. Total eclipses—like the one we’re due for—happen when the trio is in a completely straight line, and no light from the sun can directly reach the moon.
While you might imagine that this phenomenon leads to a dark sky, the way the sunlight travels through Earth’s atmosphere means that it actually casts the moon in a reddish orange hue—hence the nickname “blood moon”.
Rare lunar events like these are something to look forward to now, but you can imagine that they were pretty spooky spectacles in the old days. Historically, ancient civilizations were thought to see these dramatic nights as a sign from a higher power, and they never knew when they were coming. Fun fact: Legend has it that Christopher Columbus, tipped off by an astrologist, told an indigenous Caribbean tribe that the Christian god would soon make the moon disappear because they would not share resources with Columbus’s crew. Sure enough, three days later a total eclipse blanketed the sky in darkness, convincing them to change their tune.
How to see it this week.
Stargazers in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and Australia might be able to catch the spectacle on Friday, July 27, depending on weather conditions. (Space.com has a detailed map of the moon’s path if you want to check out when it’s due over your area.) While total lunar eclipses aren’t all that rare—there was one this Januaryand another will come in January 2019—what’s special about this one is its length. In certain areas, the blood moon will appear for one hour and 43 minutes, making it the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century so far and the second-longest in recorded history.
If you’re lucky enough to be in this lunation’s path, consider it an opportunity to grab a journal and pen. The full moon is thought to be a pivotal moment of the lunar cycle, when all the energy that has been building since the new moon comes bubbling to the surface. Use this extra special one as a moment to sit, meditate on what the last few weeks have brought up for you, and metaphorically let go of anything that’s weighing you down.