In August 2017, we experienced a total solar eclipse, here in the Tennessee Valley. This Sunday night, January 20, there will be another celestial phenomenon: a total lunar eclipse.

Sunday night's moon will be a Super Blood Wolf Moon, which is a mouthful, but all of those words have a unique meaning describing the astronomical event.

The "Wolf" moon is the name given to January's full moon.

The moon is then "Super" because it is at its closest point to Earth.

"The moon's orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular. It is kind of egg-shaped. At certain times during the orbit that means the moon will be closer to the Earth," said John Hart, Director of Smith Planetarium in Chickamauga.

The moon then appears bigger in the sky.

Finally, the "Blood" moon is related to the total lunar eclipse. For a lunar eclipse, the moon, Earth, and sun are all directly in line.

“The moon will be sitting in Earth's shadow, and from the moon's perspective, the sun will lie behind the Earth," Hart explained.

"The moon doesn't make any light of its own. What we see is light reflected off of its surface from the sun. Of course, if it passes behind the Earth's shadow, it is no longer illuminated by the sun. It goes dark."

But, the moon doesn't go completely black. Some sunlight still reaches the moon as it is bent by Earth's atmosphere.

"These longer wavelengths of sunlight will illuminate the surface of the moon. Kind of bathe the surface of the moon in a reddish glow," stated Hart, hence, the “Blood” moon moniker.
The partial lunar eclipse will start at 10:33PM EST when the moon will slowly be covered by Earth's shadow.       

You can watch the shadow progress across the moon. The edge will be curved indicating the spherical nature of our planet.

"By 11:40PM or so, the entire disk of the moon will be covered by Earth's shadow, and that will be the total phase. And, that's going to last about an hour."

The maximum total lunar eclipse will be around 12:12AM EST.

Unlike a solar eclipse, no special glasses are needed. You can look directly at the moon. City lights also will not interfere with seeing the eclipse.

"If the weather cooperates with us, we will have quite the show this Sunday night," Hart said.

The Channel 3 Storm Alert team with keep you up-to-date on air and in our weather app for Sunday night’s weather conditions for best viewing.