eclipse

Because the moon appears to turn orange or red during a total lunar eclipse, the event popularly is called a "blood moon." A total eclipse to be visible over South Carolina takes place Jan. 20. Brian Day/NASA Ames Research Center

The full moon on Jan. 20 will be a big, bad one — a Super Wolf Blood Moon, thanks to a lunar eclipse that takes place during a supermoon.

Supermoons occur when the moon is at perigee — the point in its orbit closest to Earth — when it becomes full. Those moons appear larger and brighter, as much as 14 percent brighter, according to NASA.

Lunar eclipses are popularly called "blood moons." The January full moon traditionally has been called the Wolf Moon.

The moon rises that Sunday night at 5:17 p.m., according to the website Time and Date. The eclipse will begin at 10:33 p.m. with the moon nearly two-thirds as high in the sky as it will reach.

Total eclipse is at 11:41 p.m. with the moon reaching its highest point for the night. The total eclipse lasts about an hour, and the moon will move completely out of eclipse at 1:50 a.m.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the Earth gets between the sun and moon, casting its shadow across the lunar surface.

A totally eclipsed moon is often called a blood moon because of the orange or reddish tone the orb can take on during the eclipse.

But take care who you mention that to.

"The best way to get an astronomer — amateur or professional — all riled up is to say 'blood moon eclipse.' This one may not be bright red or even red at all," said Terry Richardson, College of Charleston astronomy professor emeritus.

"Total lunar eclipses tend to look reddish because blue light from the sun is scattered more strongly than red by the Earth's atmosphere," said George Chartas, an astronomy professor at the college who is the director of its observatory.

But " 'blood moon' is not a scientifically recognized term," he said.

To have an eclipse during a supermoon sounds rare and exotic, but it's not. We just had one last January. Supermoons occur a half dozen or so times per year.

As a side note, they bring higher tides. Forecasts call for high tides in the moderately flooding 6-feet range that weekend. 

The January full moon was called the Wolf Moon in both native American and European cultures, according to Time and Date. There's no real world evidence that wolves are more active during it.

But the stealthy predators are nocturnal and more likely to be seen during a full moon in winter, when undergrowth cover is bare.

The lore that wolves howl at the moon, though, has a blood-curdling truth to it. They tend to point their faces at the sky to call, which makes the sound carry farther.

"I am inclined to think that anything we call the moon is good if it generates interest in astronomy and in the science behind what makes the moon’s color vary," said Jim Hoffman of the Lowcountry Stargazers astronomy group.

The Stargazers plan to set up telescopes to view the event, weather permitting. For more information, go to www.lowcountrystargazers.org.

And keep your fingers crossed. Early weather signs aren't encouraging. Weather can't be reliably predicted much more than a week ahead, but a long-range estimate by the private company AccuWeather suggests Jan. 20 will be cloudy and possibly rainy.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.