Supermoon trilogy a highlight of Australia's Summer

Aiming high: Tamworth Astronomy Club members Geoff Tall, Garry Copper, Craige Watson, Leigh Tschirpig and Felix Peake on the site of the proposed observatory and science centre near Botanical Gardens. Photo: Peter Hardin
Aiming high: Tamworth Astronomy Club members Geoff Tall, Garry Copper, Craige Watson, Leigh Tschirpig and Felix Peake on the site of the proposed observatory and science centre near Botanical Gardens. Photo: Peter Hardin

The second episode of the NASA-dubbed “Supermoon Trilogy” won’t disappoint sky gazers around the region on Monday night – but the best is yet to come, according to Tamworth Astronomy Club president Leigh Tschirpig.

For lunar lovers the summer’s night skies will be a special delight with three super moons in quick succession.

On December 3 the first episode, the "cold moon" supermoon rose in the evening, before the “wolf moon” supermoon, the first of the year, rose on Monday night. But it is the “blue moon blood moon supermoon” on January 31 that has sky gazers really excited.

A release from NASA said: “If you can only catch one episode of the supermoon trilogy, catch the third one. It will be extra special."

The “blood moon” will be extra special for several reasons.

Being the second full moon in a calendar month will make it a rare “blue moon”, while the third of four full moons this Summer will also appear bigger and brighter than other full moons because it is "at perigee" - the point in its orbit when it is approaching Earth at its closest.

Look to the skies: Sky watchers at Bondi Beach were not left disappointed when an amazing supermoon rose in November. Photo: Janie Barret

Look to the skies: Sky watchers at Bondi Beach were not left disappointed when an amazing supermoon rose in November. Photo: Janie Barret

It will also be a full lunar eclipse, visible from all over Australia, and finally the “blood moon” will see the Sun’s light directly reflected onto the surface of the moon to give it a blood red appearance.

"We're seeing all of the Earth's sunrises and sunsets at that moment reflected from the surface of the Moon," a NASA spokesperson said.

Locally Mr Tschirpig said it is the perfect way to kick-off another big year for the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club, who are hoping the “blood moon” can bring with it good news about a grant for a state of the art observatory centre.

“In Australia we will be on the stage looking at the show as Earth’s shadow is cast on to the moon,” Mr Tschirpig said.

“It is not really scientifically important, but it is really interesting – you will be able to see the mechanics of the solar system at work.”

“It is going to be a bad day for flat earthers.”

The local astronomer said that on a clear night the “Blood Moon” lunar eclipse can be looked at from anywhere, although it is best to turn off all outside lights and avoid street lights for a better view.

“Unlike a solar eclipse a lunar eclipse is completely safe to look at, and because it is so easy to observe it is a great opportunity to take photos,” he said.

The “blue moon blood moon supermoon” will kick off at around 10pm on January 31, and will be visible for over 5 hours.

Blood moon: Australia is in the prime seat to see the “blue moon blood moon supermoon” lunar eclipse on January 31.  Photo: Wayne Hawkins

Blood moon: Australia is in the prime seat to see the “blue moon blood moon supermoon” lunar eclipse on January 31. Photo: Wayne Hawkins

“The first bite will appear out of the moon at 10.48pm, and will move slowly across until the full eclipse at 11.51pm. That totality phase where it is fully eclipsed will last until 1.07am, before it will be all wrapped up by around 3am.” 

Astronomy Club vice president Garry Copper is also looking forward to the supermoon extravaganza, although normally prefers to study stars and planets in deep space.

He has been over the moon with the progress that the club has made in recent times, and the fact that interest in astronomy is steadily growing throughout the region, with the club even hosting a seminar attended by hundreds of Tamworth Public students at the end of last year.

The growing club currently boasts over 80 members, although that number is expected to grow even further if a state grant application to build a $2 million observatory and science centre is successful.

The centre would be built on Victoria Park on the city side of Tamworth Botanical Gardens.

“We are hoping to hear by the end of this month (January),” Mr Copper said.

“The plan is to have a roll-off roof observatory, similar to the one at Coonabarabran, but a bit smaller, as well as a planetarium and a second observatory that would hold an 8.5 tonne astro camera.”

“We would also build a science centre where we could have displays, hold lectures and conferences with room for 200 people.

“All the schools in Tamworth are behind the idea – if we get the money we would hope to have it up and running by mid 2019.” 

The club would take $1.2 million of the grant funding for the building construction, while the remaining $800,000 would be spent by Tamworth Regional Council, who owns the land, to use on infrastructure such as increased car parking and access.

“We would become part of a tourist trail which goes from Canberra to Narrabri,” Mr Potter said.

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