You may have seen a super moon. You may have witnessed a blue moon. And you might have even spotted an orangish-red “blood moon.” But on Wednesday, if you get up early enough, you’ll be able to see all three at once — in what’s being called a “super blue blood moon.”

Michelle Thaller, a NASA astronomer and host of the podcast “Orbital Path,” joined WAMU’s All Things Considered host Jonathan Wilson to talk about the moon and how to make the most of the event (even though the eclipse won’t be visible on the East Coast).

On what a “super blue blood moon” is …

There are three amazing things going on all at once … let’s take it in order. A super moon is when the moon is a little bit closer to the earth than it normally is; the moon’s orbit is an ellipse and it’s actually a little bit closer and a little bit farther away sometimes. When you get a full moon, when the moon is closer to us — in this case it’s about 14 percent larger than the average full moon. The cool thing is that that 14 percent larger actually means it’s as much as 30 percent brighter, so you’re going to see a really bright, bigger full moon, and that’s the super moon part.

The blue moon is the second full moon in one calendar month, and the blood moon — what’s happening the morning of Jan. 31 — is a lunar eclipse. The neat thing about a lunar eclipse is that the light is being blocked. The moon is in the earth’s shadow, and so the only light getting to the moon to reflect back at us is basically around the edge of the earth; the sunlight that’s filtering through the air right on the edge of the earth through the atmosphere. And in some ways, it’s sort of like every sunrise and sunset on the earth; that red light is reflecting off the moon back into our eyes, and that’s why it looks red. So that’s the super blue blood moon.

On the chances of three lunar phenomena coinciding …

Well, there’s some argument as to exactly the definition of a blue moon; historically, there have been other definitions. But something like this particular configuration; the last time it happened was in 1982, and that’s when I was 12. And then the last time before that was in 1844. So, this is something that only happens a couple times in a lifetime. The next time will be 19 years from now in 2047.

On whether she’s looking forward to seeing it …

Well I don’t know if I’ll be staying up all night, but I think people really underestimate how important it is to just go out and look at the sky. People sometimes say, oh do I need a telescope, do I need binoculars, is there some special way to view this? As a professional astronomer who deals with this every day. … Going out and looking at the moon, asking yourself how the moon changes; it’s a wonderful way to start asking yourself questions that kind of lead you deeper and deeper into how the universe works and how the cycles of the sky work. Just go out and look up; that’s really my message.

On how to capture a super blue blood moon on camera …

You’ve probably seen pictures of these really big, beautiful full moons next to landmarks, like … the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument or something. I think those are best right at moonrise, which is at sunset; the full moon always rises as the sun sets. At that time, the moon looks just huge because your eye has something to compare it to.

Amazingly, the size of the moon in the sky doesn’t change over the course of the night. A lot of times, when you look at the moon rising, it looks gigantic right by the horizon. You can actually measure this; the size of the moon doesn’t change even when it’s overhead, but when it’s lower on the horizon and you can see it in comparison to the landscape, that’s when it really looks big. I think that’s the best picture you can take.

On what people will see across the country …

Well the sad thing for us, unfortunately, is that the eclipse part happens after sunrise; the moon will actually set below the horizon. The West Coast is in for a really nice show for the eclipse, but our bad luck is unfortunately it happens a little bit too late in the morning for us to see it on the East Coast.

The super moon is easily viewable all night long; there’s going to be a big beautiful bright full moon, and for that just go outside any time of the night. … If you’re on the West Coast, starting around 3:30 in the morning I believe you’ll actually see the darkening of the moon as the moon passes through the earth’s shadow. At the height of that, you’ll see this red effect that they call the blood moon.

(WAMU)