MIAMI/LOS ANGELES: Stargazers in North America, Hawaii, the Middle East, Russia, Asia and Australia had the chance to witness a rare "super blue blood moon" on Wednesday (Jan 31), when Earth's shadow bathed the moon in a coppery hue.
The celestial show is the result of the sun, Earth, and Moon lining up perfectly for a lunar eclipse just as the Moon is near its closest orbit point to Earth, making it appear "super" large.
Thousands gathered at Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory, which opened its doors at 3.30am to a crowd expected to reach 2,000. Some had waited in line since 10pm the night before, hoping for a choice viewing spot.
Coffee was on sale, and many science buffs brought their own telescopes to set up on the lawn.
The eclipse began around 3.45 am, as a black shadow began to devour one corner of the grey-white Moon.
An hour later, the lunar surface was plunged into darkness, known as totality.
Then, rusty tones began to sheath the Moon, reflecting the light of all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth at the same moment.
CLEAR VIEW IN ASIA AND AUSTRALIA
Other parts of the world, including Australia and Asia, saw the moon at night, as it comes up in the west.
The orange full-moon eclipse provided a moment of awe, entertainment and reflection for Filipinos sheltering from the erupting Mayon volcano. For superstitious farmers who fled Mayon's wrath, some viewed the celestial spectacle as a bad omen.
In Singapore, the moon was visible from 7.48pm when a partial eclipse began.
At the Beijing Planetarium, about 800 people were expected to observe the event over the eastern horizon. Further south, the Hong Kong Space Museum organised a "Night of Total Lunar Eclipse".
"The last time a complete lunar cover-up took place on the second full Moon of the month was December 30, 1982, at least as reckoned by local time in Europe, Africa, and western Asia - locations where the event could be seen," said Sky and Telescope magazine.
"The last 'blue moon' total lunar eclipse visible from the US and North America happened on March 31, 1866."
The "blue moon" aspect simply means it is the second full moon in a month, not that the moon will appear blue. A blue moon happens on average just under every three years.
It's called a supermoon because the moon, in its elliptical orbit, is near its closest point to Earth.
This proximity, or perigee, makes it appear 14 per cent bigger than normal and 30 per cent brighter.
The reddish tint - or blood moon - happens due to "the effect of all the sunrises and sunsets all around the planet reflecting off the moon, which I think is really lovely," said NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller.
Sunrises and sunsets appear pink, red and orange because of the long distance light must travel, causing light waves to bounce in different ways, explained Thaller.
"The reason a sunrise or a sunset is red is the sunlight has to pass through a large amount of air on the side of the Earth and that actually scatters away any blue light and just lets the red light come on through," she said.
HOW TO WATCH
The blood moon will not be visible in much of Europe, Africa and South America.
Viewing was also a challenge for those on the US East Coast, since the eclipse began just as the moon was setting in the west and the sun is rising in the east.
But those who are not in the path of totality, or who are experiencing cloudy weather, may catch it anyway, via a live stream broadcast on NASA.gov.
If you miss this one, the next blue moon total lunar eclipse will happen on Dec 31, 2028, though it won't be quite as large since the moon will not be at its closest point to Earth.
Another will happen on Jan 31, 2037, a total of 17 hours before perigee.
"The red colour during a lunar eclipse is very distinctive and it's a rare treat to be able to see a blood red moon," said Brian Rachford, associate professor of physics at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
"One of the great things about a lunar eclipse is you also don't need any special equipment to see it. Anyone can go outside and look at the moon."