From late Sunday to early Monday morning, the full moon will slip into Earth’s shadow, creating a total lunar eclipse that will tint the satellite in the night sky with a reddish hue; this is what gives the phenomenon the nickname “blood moon”.
But this time scientists suspect the celestial event will produce a moon that looks redder than usual, thanks to a powerful event that happened not too long ago here on Earth.
In January, an undersea volcano erupted in the South Pacific near the uninhabited island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai. The plume from the eruption was catapulted into the atmosphere, reaching up to 36 miles in altitude.
According to NASA, it is likely the tallest column ever captured in the satellite age.
“The intensity of this event far exceeds that of any storm cloud I have ever studied,” said Kristopher Bedka, an atmospheric scientist at NASA Langley.
The resulting cloud of ash and gas spread across a section of the stratosphere larger than the state of Georgia.
During a lunar eclipse, much of the sunlight that illuminates the moon passes through the stratosphere where it is scattered to produce the red “blood moon” effect. Additional material recently injected into that atmospheric layer could produce a bloodier-than-normal eclipse.
“Persistent exhaust from the volcano could darken the eclipse, making it a darker red than usual,” writes astronomer Tony Phillips on Spaceweather.com.
Nearly a thousand years ago, on May 5, 1110, some medieval scribes reported a lunar eclipse that so darkened the disk of the moon that it was “completely extinguished.” In 2020, researchers used data from ice cores and tree rings to connect the intense eclipse to a volcanic eruption in Japan two years earlier.
It’s unclear if the moon will be completely blotted out Sunday night and Monday morning, but regardless of the added effect of volcanic activity, it will be a sight worth venturing outside for.