Screening in the skies above you: the new year's 'supermoon trilogy'

The moon rises in Bondi, Sydney, on November 15, a day after the official supermoon was obscured by clouds. Picture: Janie Barret
The moon rises in Bondi, Sydney, on November 15, a day after the official supermoon was obscured by clouds. Picture: Janie Barret

All new years start with a bang, but the special effects rolled out in the night sky this January will be astronomical.

New Year's Day is the date for episode two of what NASA has dubbed the "supermoon trilogy": three supermoons in swift succession.

Four weeks ago on December 3, the "cold moon" supermoon rose in the evening. The first day of 2018 will bring the wolf moon supermoon.

But it's the "blue moon blood moon supermoon" rising on the night of January 31, 2018, that has night sky enthusiasts really excited.

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


For one, it's the third of summer's four supermoons, the phenomenon where the full moon appears bigger and brighter because it is "at perigee" - the point in its orbit when it is approaching Earth at its closest.

As the second full moon in a calendar month, it will be a blue moon. (Contrary to the old saying, they're not that rare, falling once every three years.)

And finally, it will be a blood moon, glowing red during a lunar eclipse, as it takes on a faint glow from the sunlight reflected through Earth's atmosphere.

"We're seeing all of the Earth's sunrises and sunsets at that moment reflected from the surface of the Moon," says Sarah Noble, a Program Scientist at NASA headquarters.

Midnight moon gazers will be hoping for better weather at the end of the month when the lunar eclipse is revealed just before 1am.

While the New Year's Day super moon will be the closest of the three, and therefore the brightest, cloudy night skies will obscure the viewing along Australia's east coast.

Adelaide across to Perth, however, should have clear skies, perfect for watching the "wolf moon" - the first full moon of the year.

The best time to catch this supermoon is at moonrise (between 6:30pm and 7:30pm) and moonset (between 4:30am and 5:30am).

Astrophysicist Alan Duffy, from Swinburne University, says it's a simple matter to find moonrise. "All you need to do is wait for the sun to set, turn your back on it and look due east.

"Get yourself a clear line of sight and watch the moon come up over the treeline or cityscape. The moon will look beautiful and just impossibly large. It's called the moon illusion, something that's been noted since the ancient Greeks. It's all a trick though. If you stretch out your arm and give the moon a thumbs up your thumbnail should cover the moon. Try it again a few hours later and even though the moon will look much smaller, it's still the same size as your thumbnail."