Taos enjoys rare lunar show


Mother nature came through and gave us mostly clear skies to view this once in a lifetime event: a "full super snow blue blood moon" on Tuesday (Jan. 30).

A supermoon, the second one this month, rose right at sunset Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday morning, at 6:27 a.m. Taos time, the sun, earth, and moon aligned perfectly. It produced this beautiful display of earth's sunsets and sunrises projected onto the "full snow super blue blood moon."

It caused me to feel my place in the cosmos between two familiar companions (moon and sun) in our journey together through the vastness of space. After taking this picture of the setting blood moon, I did an about face and saw at the opposite direction of the compass, the morning sunrise bringing us a new day and a special knowing of where we are.

The full snow super moon Jan 30-31 is a rare lunar event. The last time it happened was in 1866.

Although the full wolf moon on New Year's Day was also a supermoon (the largest supermoon in 2018), you couldn't tell the difference. That's because the moon's orbit on this night was close to perigee, or the closest point to Earth, so it looked about 13 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an ordinary full moon.

On Wednesday before dawn, a patch of darkness began to make its way across the moon's disc, the shadow of the earth passing over the lunar surface. By 6 a.m., the earth's shadow almost completely covered the moon causing it to glow orange-red caused by the color of all of the earth's sunrises and sunsets projected onto the moon. For those living far enough away from city lights, the splendor of the Milky Way appeared arcing across the sky from north to south.

As the dawn's light made the Milky Way "disappear," the red blood moon at full lunar eclipse phase set in the west. It's an all-sky event that in some ways rivaled the awe-inspiring excitement of a total solar eclipse. You didn't need special glasses, binoculars, or a telescope to see this event because you weren't looking at the sun.

The last thing to think about is that this was the second full moon in the same month. The most common definition for this is a blue moon as in the old saying, "Once in a blue moon." Generally, blue moons occur once every three years, but this one is even more unique. Why? It's because we have a short month following this blue moon, so there won't be any full moon in February. But there will be two full moons in March.

Mount Sangre Observatory is automated

My Mount Sangre Observatory is automated to the point that you can control it from your home or office personal computer. All you need to do is install the free version of TeamViewer and call me. I'll sync with your PC and you can control the whole thing from operating the dome to slewing the telescope, to taking pictures of your favorite deep-space object. You can even take spectra of stars and analyze the elements in their outer atmospheres.

I've already taken several images so you can call during the daytime if you wish and perform all the necessary steps to see how the system works. Then, using the images I have in my database, you can run a user-friendly scientific analysis that will take about 15 minutes. We can do the whole thing day or night, snow or sunshine. You pick when you want to do it. Allow about one hour of your time to operate the system.

Editor's Note -- Gary Zientara of Taos Pines Ranch near Angel Fire is a former teacher and lifelong amateur astronomer. See more viewing tips at mountsangreobservatory.com.