'Super blue blood moon' captivates student photographer
The last night of January was cold in Kali. A biting wind blew through the village, kicking up dry snow, rustling tarps and making the already frigid weather feel even more so.
In the wee hours of the morning, while most of his neighbors slept, high school senior Alec Pikok, 18, pulled himself out of bed, put on his warm clothes, grabbed his camera and headed outside in search of something spectacular.
"It's a once in a lifetime picture to take," said Pikok. "I had nothing else to do other than sleep, so I figured it would be more exciting to watch the moon and take pictures."
Jan. 31 marked the first time in 150 years a lunar eclipse coincided with a blue moon and a supermoon in the skies over North America.
Those coincidences earned the cosmic event its nickname: the Super Blue Blood Moon eclipse. It was truly a sight to behold.
"The moon looked really beautiful. It was ping-pong sized," he said. "The colors I saw were black to rustic red. The edge of the moon was white and bright."
A supermoon is the word used to describe when the moon travels slightly closer to Earth than usual. The shorter distance makes it appear brighter and larger in the sky.
Blue moons are the second full moon to appear in a single month. Monthly lunar cycles tend to only have a single full moon, so the repeat performance stands out.
While a solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, obscuring it from view and darkening the sky, a lunar eclipse is when the moon passes into the Earth's shadow, darkening its surface.
The blood moon earns its name from the reddish-orange color that appears when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow. It lasts for a portion of the eclipse.
"When I was very little, I saw another blood moon," recalled Pikok. "I forgot how old I was but I was very little."
Sometimes, the moon can appear to be tinted orange on other nights because of atmospheric particles scattering "blue" light more than "red" light, but only a blood moon is caused by the Earth's shadow during an eclipse.
For Pikok, knowing how rare it was for this series of phenomena to all happen together was what captured his interest, he said.
"I enjoy taking pictures because later in life, when I'm really old, I'll look at these pictures and think, 'Oh wow, I have these great memories,'" he said.
He also moonlights as the recently re-started Kali School newspaper's staff photographer, which is why he had his camera on hand and ready to go.
"Alec showed real dedication in being up and ready to take photos at that time of the morning," said his teacher and supervisor Garrett Armstrong.
Pikok was outside from about 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. It wasn't easy to get a clear shot of the moon because of low light and temperatures.
"The challenge was the cold. That was the No. 1 thing. I'd have to take my gloves off to do little tedious work and then I'd have to put my gloves on otherwise my fingers would go numb. The other challenge was the wind. I had to use something to block the wind so it would stay still and I could take the pictures," said Pikok. "I had to take a bunch of pictures. It took me a while to set it up and (there was some) trial and error, changing the ISO, the white balance. I had to use a box to stop the wind from moving the camera because it's such low light. So, it took a long time to take that picture."
But despite the cold and the wind, Pikok said he's glad he sacrificed some sleep in order to see the Super Blue Blood Moon eclipse shine over Point Lay.
After all, the next one won't happen for quite a while. People who want to see it won't have to wait 150 years like last time, though. It will be visible in 2037 in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and parts of Africa.
Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.