IOWA CITY — The phrase “once in a blue moon” will take on special meaning Wednesday morning as sky gazers — including those in Iowa — get the chance to witness a trifecta of lunar anomalies.
A total lunar eclipse is expected before dawn Wednesday, and will feature a super moon — a term used to describe a moon that reaches its fullest while making its closest pass by earth. This week’s super moon also earns the title of “blue moon” because it’s the second full moon this month — something that happens only every couple years.
The convergence of a blue moon with a lunar eclipse while the moon is at its closest approach to earth marks the first time that’s happened since 1982, according to Noah Petro, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington.
The “blue” aspect of this week’s moon won’t do much for viewers, according to University of Iowa astronomy professor Steven Spangler.
“Blue moons are an interesting curiosity,” he said. “But there’s not a lot of astronomical significance to them.”
Even this moon’s “super” powers are minimal, making it appear just 10 percent bigger, which Spangler said would be noticeable only if you could view it beside a regular moon.
But a total lunar eclipse, he said, always is something to behold.
“These happen all the time, but they are remarkable things,” Spangler said.
Prime viewing time for the blue, super, lunar eclipse in Eastern Iowa begins about 5:45 a.m. Wednesday — when the sky will be dark and a partial eclipse will be starting. The full eclipse will begin about 6:50 a.m., just 30 minutes before sunrise.
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The maximum eclipse is expected at 7:29 a.m., meaning it likely will be difficult — if not impossible — to see, as the moon will have set and the sun will have risen.
But between 5:30 and 10 minutes to 7 a.m., that would be a neat spectacle,” Spangler said.
People on the West Coast, where the sun rises later, will get a prime view of the full eclipse — expected to last about 40 minutes. The total lunar eclipse, in fact, will be visible from western North American to eastern Asia, according to U.S. astronomers.
“But we will see something,” Spangler said of Iowa viewers.
He conceded Iowans also need the weather to cooperate — which is not something it’s known for in January. Forecasts right now show Cedar Rapids’ skies as mostly cloudy before dawn Wednesday.
“It’s definitely worth (trying,)” Spangler said.
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Reuters contributed to this report.