In the late hours Sunday into early Monday morning, the full moon will slip into Earth’s shadow, creating a total lunar eclipse that will tinge the night sky satellite with a reddish hue — this is what gives the phenomenon the nickname “blood moon.”
But this time scientists suspect that the celestial event will produce a moon that looks more deep red than normal, thanks to a powerful event that happened not too long ago here on Earth.
In January, an underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific near the uninhabited island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai. The plume from the eruption was catapulted high into the atmosphere, reaching up to 36 miles in altitude.
According to NASA, it’s likely the highest plume captured in the satellite era.
“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 in area than the state of Georgia.
During a lunar eclipse much of the sunlight that lights up the moon passes through the stratosphere where it gets scattered to produce the red “blood moon” effect. The extra material recently injected into that atmospheric layer could produce an eclipse that’s bloodier than normal.
“The volcano’s lingering exhaust could shade the eclipse, making it a deeper darker red than usual,” writes astronomer Tony Phillips at Spaceweather.com.
Nearly a thousand years ago, on May 5, 1110, some medieval scribes reported a lunar eclipse that so darkened the disc of the moon that it was “completely extinguished.” In 2020 researchers used ice core and tree ring data to connect the intense eclipse to a volcanic eruption in Japan two years earlier.
It’s not clear that we moon will be fully blotted out Sunday night and Monday morning, but no matter the added effect from volcanic activity, it’ll be a show worth venturing outside for.