New Year: Full Moons and a Conjunction in January

Welcome to 2018! January jumps right into some great events for amateur astronomers: a supermoon on the 1st, a close conjunction of Jupiter and Mars on the 6th (and 7th), and another full Moon (hence, a blue Moon) with a total lunar eclipse (so... a blue blood Moon?), which also happens to be a "super" Moon (so... a super blue blood Moon?!) on the 31st!

Supermoon on January 1st
The occurrence of a supermoon is pretty neat but not quite as spectacular or impressive as some media outlets would have you believe. They occur because the Moon's orbit around the Earth isn't a perfect circle but is instead an ellipse, and therefore has points in its orbit when it's closer than average and farther than average. When the full Moon phase coincides with the point in the Moon's orbit when it's closest to Earth (known as a perigee syzygy), it appears a little bigger. The Moon can appear up to about 14% bigger than during its smallest appearance (a "minimoon"), which isn't a huge difference. Especially considering those are the extremes... there's only a 14% difference in size between the Moon's largest apparent size and smallest apparent size. But it's still pretty cool to see the big disk in the sky, especially when it's rising.

It should be noted that all of these Moon names... supermoon, blood Moon, blue Moon, wolf Moon, and the like, are all astrological in origin, not astronomical. The reason being is that astronomy has scientific, descriptive terms for these events (e.g. perigee syzygy) that have specific definitions, while astrological terms are meant to elicit emotions and reactions from those prone to believing there's anything meaningful in astrology.

The Supermoon of January 1st as captured by a Canon EOS 6D and Meade LX200ACF 10" telescope.

Jupiter Mars Conjunction on January 6th and 7th
In astronomy, a conjunction is when two prominent bodies appear to come within close proximity of each other from our line of sight. They may be millions or billions of miles apart in reality, but in our sky they appear right next to each other, simply because of our perspective. This particular conjunction involved Jupiter and Mars, and a cold, early morning with a quarter Moon.

The Moon lights the landscape as Jupiter and Mars rise between the arms of a Joshua Tree at GMARS.

Super Blue Blood Moon on the 31st
More than just a supermoon. More than just a blue Moon. More than just a blood Moon! The Moon will be all three! Wake up early on Wednesday, 1/31, to see the Super Blue Blood Moon! It's the second full Moon in the month of January 2018 and it'll be in total eclipse at 4:52AM. It's also the only total lunar eclipse visible from the western US this year. Be sure to get a good, clear view of the western horizon.