If you're up and awake and zipped into your anorak right now, no doubt you're as excited as I am by the prospect of seeing this morning's super blood wolf moon. A scientist would call it a total lunar eclipse, but we live in media-debased times so super wolf blood moon is obviously a better name. A wolf blood super moon doesn't come along very often, which is why millions of Britons have awoken early today to capture the blood wolf super moon for themselves and to share the wolf super blood moon with their online friends. But what exactly is a blood super wolf moon, and why the hype?
The blood bit is easy. During an eclipse of the moon some of the sunlight refracted through the earth's atmosphere reflects off the lunar surface as a deathly shade of red resembling the colour of a gushing wound. No actual blood is involved, but punters are far more likely to dash out of the house to see a blood moon than an eclipse, hence the successful rebranding of the latter in recent years.
The super bit is easy. The moon's non-circular orbit sometimes brings it closer to the earth and sometimes further away, and when when a close call happens during a full moon we call it a supermoon. Astrologers disagree over the precise dimensional borderline between supermoon and non-super moon, but why should ill-defined ambiguity stop us? A supermoon looks bigger than an average full moon, but not by enough for your average punter to spot the difference without being told, hence the flurry of supermoon articles in the media during the preceding 24 hours. Astronomers prefer the term "full moon around perigee", but that's not catchy enough, so supermoon it is. Usually there are three or four supermoons a year, which just goes to show how fantastically rare they're not.
The wolf bit is less easy.
Our ancestors were much more closely tied to the phases of the moon than we are, the electric light bulb having not yet been invented. A full moon made it possible to continue some outdoor activities into the evening, whereas a new moon meant stay indoors and light a candle. For many the dates of the full moon were a more useful long-term subdivision than calendar months, and so they gained special names according to whereabouts in the year they fell. For example, one of the autumn full moons was known as the Hunter's Moon (because it was a good night for going out and killing things), and one of the winter full moons became the Snow Moon (because it often did).
However, because long-distance communications had not yet been invented, different local communities called their full moons different things. A full moon in June, for example, might be called the Rose Moon, Flower Moon or Strawberry Moon according to local horticultural conditions, while a full moon in March might be the Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon or Lenten Moon depending. In an internet-focused age such variety is clearly not ideal, hence our historic Anglo-Saxon names have been superseded by whatever Native Americans called their full moons, which explains the global adoption of Sturgeon Moon, Full Corn Moon and Beaver Moon despite their local irrelevance.
Originally full moons were defined on a seasonal basis, with a list of three names for winter, three for spring, three for summer and three for autumn. For example summer's trio were the Hay Moon, then the Grain Moon, then the Fruit Moon, starting with the first full moon after the summer solstice and ending with the last full moon before the autumn equinox. Autumn's list always ended with The Moon Before Yule (before the winter solstice), then winter always began with the Moon After Yule (after the winter solstice). If four full moons sneaked into a single season, as occurred roughly every two and a half years, a so-called Blue Moon was inserted to keep the cycle on track. But all this celestial palaver proved much too complicated for modern generations who prefer things simple, which is why journalists now allocate names on a monthby month basis. January? Wolf Moon. Sorted.
So it's a blood moon because of unscientific dumbing down, it's a supermoon because of an entirely arbitrary threshold and it's a wolf moon because it's January and some Americans said so. Super blood wolf moon, QED.
To help you observe the super blood wolf moon, here are the exact timings of this morning's phenomenon. Look west.
02:37 Faintly super blood wolf moon begins 03:34 Partial super blood wolf moon begins 04:41 Total super blood wolf moon begins 05:12 Maximal super blood wolf moon 05:43 Total super blood wolf moon ends 06:51 Partial super blood wolf moon ends 07:48 Faintly super blood wolf moon ends
The good bit's from quarter to five to quarter to six, and you might not notice much outside that hour. All times are GMT, so you may need to adjust for local circumstances. Nothing will be visible from Australia or most of Asia because your side of the planet's facing the wrong way. In Africa or continental Europe the moon may have set before the light show is complete. Obviously you won't see anything if it's overcast, because clouds are the evil thwarting nemesis of the eclipse chaser. And do try hard not to miss it because the next decent blood moon visible from London won't be until December 2029... and that won't be even super, let alone wolf.