A lunar eclipse
Photo: Vijesh K (Flickr)

I read the phrase “super blood wolf moon” for the first time today and wish I’d never logged on.

They’re called lunar eclipses. Don’t call them “blood moons.” Don’t call them “super blood moons,” either. And a “super blood wolf moon” is not a thing, so don’t ever utter that phrase. Just call them lunar eclipses. Please.

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Let’s start with the facts. Overnight on January 20 into January 21, there will be a lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow. They don’t happen every time there’s a full moon because the Moon’s orbit is tilted relative to the ecliptic plane, the path the Earth travels around the Sun or the path the Sun travels through the sky. Eclipses only occur at times when the Moon is full or new when it crosses the ecliptic.

A year can have two or more lunar eclipses; after January, a partial lunar eclipse will occur on July 16. The last one was this past July, which could not be seen from North America. If you live in North America, the upcoming eclipse is definitely exciting and worth watching.

But scientists and astronomers don’t call these common events blood moons, at least not seriously. Obviously the folkloric name comes from the red color of the moon during lunar eclipses, caused by the Earth’s atmosphere scattering the blue light. But its skyrocketing use seems tied to Christian doomsday theorists Mark Blitz and John Hagee using the term in their book “Four Blood Moons” in 2013. Google Trends seems to confirm this. Under most circumstances, people who call lunar eclipses “blood moons” sound like doomsday theorists to me.

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“Blood Moon” search frequency
Screenshot: Google Trends

The Moon also has an elliptic orbit around the Earth. In its closest point, or perigee, it’s around 222,000 miles away. In its furthest point, or apogee, it’s around 253,000 miles away. Sometimes, a full moon aligns with perigee and look a tad bigger than usual. A full or new moon that occurs within 90 percent of the Moon’s perigee has earned the nickname “supermoon.” So, a lunar eclipse during one of these regular occurrences has ended up with the awful nickname “super blood moon.”

Tons of other folkloric names have been given to various full moons. Blue moons are the third full moon in seasons with four, but some erroneously call the second full moon in a month a blue moon. Typically, you see various other names for full moons devised by old-timey Almanacs called “Native American Moon names.” This nickname erases the fact that individual tribes had their own Moon names separate from the ones used in popular folklore. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that the Algonquin tribes call the first full moon of the year a “wolf Moon,” though a quick search reveals that this probably isn’t true.

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I feel like someone out there is going to tell me that these eclipse nicknames are all in good fun, or they’re good for science communication and will make more people appreciate the eclipse. I disagree, and will not stand for the normalization of pseudoscience.

Weather permitting, the eclipse will be great and I encourage you to look at the Moon that night, and also tonight and all other nights. But “super blood wolf moon” is a name that somehow combines sensationalism, doomsday conspiracies, and botched Native American culture into one unscientific name. It’s perfect if you’re a fan of red-top sensationalist tabloids like the National Enquirer or the Daily Mail. But if you’re trying to sound intelligent, please just call it “the lunar eclipse.”