89.1 WEMU

Blue Comet, Blue Moon And A Lunar Eclipse

Jan 15, 2018

Picture of Comet C/2016 R2 PanSTARRS taken by Dr. Brian Ottum.
Credit Dr. Brian Ottum

While we're spending a lot of our time and energy surviving the January winter weather, there is a lot going on in the sky above us.

Local amateur astronomer and member of the University of Michigan Lowbrow Astronomers Dr. Brian Ottum spoke to 89.1 WEMU'S Lisa Barry about the local siting of a rare blue comet and the upcoming blue moon and lunar eclipse.


Dr. Ottum recently spotted the rare blue comet and captured this picture with his remote controlled telescope in the New Mexico desert from his home in Saline.  Dr. Ottum says the comet initially appeared bright enough to be seen with binoculars in our area, but has faded a bit.  And now, a small telescope would be necessary to see it.

He said it appears blue because it's puffing out carbon monoxide.  He compared a comet to a "dirty snowball," which is basically a ball of ice, dirt, and rocks that fly through space and, as they get close to the sun, the sun heats them up.  And that causes a tail, and the tail is the gas that is coming off the head of the comet.

Dr. Brian Ottum at the WEMU story.
Credit Lisa Barry

A blue moon is taking place later this month, which means it is the second full moon in one month.  The blue moon coincides with an upcoming lunar eclipse on January 31st.

When the sun is coming up, the moon is going down but will appear darker and fainter than it usual.  The beginning of the lunar eclipse will be seen around 6:30 that morning, when the full moon is slipping into the shadow of the earth but will not be visible as a total lunar eclipse here in Michigan.

Dr. Ottum will be sharing his knowledge and views from his remote telescope this weekend Saturday, January 20th in a special Star Show at the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu