This month is a special treat for sky observers. Moon gazers are treated to two supermoons as well as a lunar eclipse all in the same month. One of the supermoons has already passed on New Year’s Day but the second will occur on January 31.
A supermoon is a phenomenon that occurs every other month or so. Because the moon’s orbit is slightly elliptical, there are two times each month when it is about 5,000 miles closer to us than at its farthest. If this occurs during the full moon phase, it is termed a supermoon and appears larger and brighter in the evening sky when it rises. Although the variations are slight, it still provided a special treat New Year’s evening since the sky was crystal clear and the moon exceptionally large and bright.
A second supermoon will occur at the end of the month and will be visible either on January 30 or 31. Whenever two full moons occur in the same month, the second is called a blue moon and this normally occurs only every two and half years or so, hence the saying, “once in a blue moon.”
Adding to the January excitement is a lunar eclipse which occurs early on the morning of January 31. While the moon is full, it will pass behind the earth’s shadow blocking the light of the sun. Because of the earth’s atmosphere, however, the moon doesn’t go totally dark, but rather appears reddish and is termed, “a blood moon.” The best time to view this eclipse will be between 6 and 7am on January 31 and hopefully the clouds will cooperate to give us this treat.
Although telescopes can enhance these experiences, a good pair of binoculars will do the trick and parents can use these to help their children gain an appreciation for the complexities and regularities of the universe.
It is truly remarkable how predictable the movements of the earth, moon, and planets are in the sky. They are a precisely tuned timepiece on a gigantic scale. Scientists can predict thousands of years in advance when eclipses, supermoons, and other astronomical events will occur even down to the second. In addition, because the solar system is so well timed, historians can also rewind this enormous clock to pinpoint dates in ancient history because of the records kept by early sky observers.
If we came across a dropped pocket watch on a busy sidewalk, we’d immediately recognize it as having been both designed and carefully engineered. It is beyond comprehension that such a precise mechanism keeping accurate track of hours, minutes, and seconds could have formed itself or gradually come into existence even over billions of years. To assume this would be a great insult to the jeweler or clocksmith who made it.
Why then, do we apply different criteria when looking heavenward? How can we believe that this magnificently beautiful, perfectly accurate, and enormously huge solar system clock gradually came into existence by itself? It is infinitely more complex than even the most complicated watch and never needs to be wound or have its battery changed, yet keeps time down to the second.
This array of stars, planets, and moons are all the work of an infinitely intelligent Creator who delights in both form and function. This enormous watch that He created is still much too small for His wrist yet it fascinates and enthralls all who study it. Not only is it exact, but it possesses a beauty and grandeur far beyond anything we humans have yet designed.
Three thousand years ago, the shepherd-turned-king David watched the sky as he tended his sheep on the Judean hillsides and was just as amazed then as we are today. In Psalm 19 he wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
As we enjoy and marvel at the predictability and vastness of the solar system, let us listen to its speech declaring the wisdom and power of its Creator and let us praise and glorify Him. He’s even more amazing than His creation!