Ah, January, the mad dash of the holiday season and end-of-the-year race to complete the “To-Do” list are in the past. We’ve now entered the full embrace of winter, a time of reflection and looking forward. Although our days are getting longer, our skies are still dominated by the season’s darkness and lucky us to live here in North SLO County!

As a fan of dark skies, a fairly rare occurrence of a Super Moon combined with a total lunar eclipse (or Blood Moon) is right around the corner, Sunday, January 20-21 and it’s a great reason to gather friends and family for a little outdoor fun.

Not that long ago people lived their lives based on the rising and setting of the sun, planting and harvesting by the phases of the moon and navigating by the stars. In those days, celestial events such as meteor showers or eclipses were noticed by all, a source of mystery and taken very seriously.

How times have changed — through years of questioning and scientific study we now know the reasons for the events in our skies and can predict with regularity their occurrence, also, with the discovery and use of electricity to light our nights, we have become independent of the need for and influences of natural light.

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Growing up in a city, I was lucky to have parents who developed my appreciation for dark skies over summers spent in the foothills of the Sierras, trips to the mountains or on camping adventures. In my kid mind, I used to think that the moon was brighter because we were closer and that there were just more stars over some areas. With friends and family, we spent countless hours watching the moon traverse the sky, identifying constellations, oohing and awing at meteor showers and going for walks with flashlights off.

Later I learned the real reason the skies were so amazing was due to the lack of light pollution, sadly so prevalent in our modern world (see a current map of the world and the effects of lighting at lightpollutionmap.info ). However, while people in many areas have lost the ability to see all but a faint moon and the very brightest stars, here, or within a short drive, we are fortunate to still have the opportunity to enjoy nature’s nighttime displays without too much interference. Our night skies are something that really make our area special and it’s fun to share the experience.

According to timeanddate.com, the upcoming Super Blood Moon of January 20-21 is the first and only full lunar eclipse of the year, the next occurrence won’t take place again until May 26 of 2021.

What’s with the name? A full moon is called a Super Moon when it occurs on its closest approach to the earth and a Blood Moon is the name given during a total lunar eclipse causing it to appear deep red in color.

Also, it’s fun to note that some call this the “Great American Lunar Eclipse” as the totality will be visible across all 50 states!

If the weather is clear, the timing of this lunar event couldn’t be better here in North County. To make the most of this free natural event, bundle up, gather friends and family and head outside to an area with a dark and unobstructed view. I suggest hot chocolate and warm adult beverages with some fun evening snacks while enjoying the show. According to timeanddate.com Moonrise will be at 5:02 p.m., Partial Eclipse (moon starts turning red) at 7:33 p.m. and Total Eclipse by 8:41 p.m. Get outside and enjoy!

Note: Learn more about our night skies or join in free monthly stargazing events (by Santa Margarita KOA), with Central Coast Astronomical Society at centralcoastastronomy.org.

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