How to see May’s super blood moon

Living Well | Perry Vlahos | Images: Getty | Posted on 18 May 2021

The super blood moon on 26 May is the celestial event of the year. Here’s how to see it.

On 26 May curious eyes from Melbourne to Manila will turn skyward to witness a remarkable phenomenon – a swollen full moon glowing an eerie shade of red in the night sky.

The so-called super blood moon, which will be visible from eastern Australia as well as the Pacific, eastern Asia and the west coast of the Americas, is caused by a total lunar eclipse. It occurs when the moon moves into the earth’s shadow, blocking direct light from the sun. A small amount of sunlight reaches the moon’s surface filtered through earth’s atmosphere, turning it a reddish hue, ranging from tobacco brown to copper or a spooky blood red, depending on the amount of dust in the atmosphere.

And because the moon will be a little closer to earth on its elliptical path in May, it will appear slightly bigger than normal – hence the “super” name.

It’s a phenomenon not to be missed and you don’t need a telescope to see it – binoculars help, but naked eye alone is enough. 

Blood moon

A blood super moon is a much-anticipated phenomenon, occurring once every two-and-a-half years.


Where and when to see the super blood moon

Find a location with a clear view to the eastern horizon. For Melburnians, the Williamstown foreshore is perfect, or any beach on the western side of Port Phillip Bay.

For the full experience, begin by watching the moonrise at about 5.03 pm – it should look majestic as it climbs. The partial eclipse phase begins at 7.44pm. Totality begins at 9.11pm and lasts for about 15 minutes. Be ready, as it will go quickly.

And if you want more ...

If the remarkable sight of the full blood moon has you yearning to know more about our night skies, the good news is you don’t need expensive equipment to study the stars. All that’s required is a little bit of curiosity, a free sky chart downloaded from the internet and a dark spot in the backyard or local park.

10 tips for beginner stargazers

Start simple, local and free 

The key when starting out is to take advantage of everything that costs no money, uses no equipment other than your eyes and can be done without leaving your local area. Keep it as simple and easy as possible until you’re sure you’re ready to get serious, when you might want to invest time and money travelling to dark-sky sights, buying a telescope and so on.

Start out by learning to identify the brightest stars, planets and constellations such as the southern cross, Orion and Scorpius. You’ll be surprised by the sense of connection with the universe you can get by being able to point out and name a celestial object with total certainty. 

Download a free sky chart

Begin by downloading and printing a free, detailed and accurate ‘all sky’ chart of the southern hemisphere. A paper map may seem a bit old school, but unlike a digital version viewed on your phone, you can write on it and it won’t interfere with your dark-adapted vision. And it won’t matter if you find yourself out of mobile phone range.   

Or use an app 

If you’d prefer to use your phone than a paper chart, you can download the free Sky Map app to help you recognise celestial objects. Once installed, point your phone in any direction and it will name what stars, planets and constellations ‘should’ be visible there. 

Make your own red-light torch 

To help you read your sky chart, adapt a small torch by fastening layers of red paper or cellophane over the business end with a rubber band. Why red? Red light least affects our night vision, so you can read the chart without blasting your pupils, and will be able to see the stars.   

Find a dark spot

Find a dark spot in your backyard or the local park and using your red-light torch to study your chart, compare the chart with the night sky. Make sure the direction you’re facing matches the direction written at the bottom of the chart – either north, south, east or west. If it doesn’t, turn the chart 90 degrees, or even 180, until what you see in the chart matches the sky. 

Don’t leave it too late  

It's best to begin stargazing soon after sunset when only the brightest stars are visible. You'll be able to identify them easily, as it can get confusing later when all the stars are out. Until mid-June you should be able to easily spot Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri – consult your chart for guidance.   

Blood moon black sky
People shining torch into starry night sky

Find a location with a clear view to the eastern horizon to see the blood moon. The partial eclipse phase begins at 7.44pm. Totality begins at 9.11pm and lasts for about 15 minutes.  


Buy binoculars 

If you want to take your stargazing up a notch, you might like to buy a pair binoculars. You can find good binoculars for $100 to $150 and there’s no need to spend more than that. There are many brands on the market and there's little difference between them.

For astronomy I recommend 7 X 50 binoculars. The first figure refers to the number of times they magnify and the second is the diameter of the main lenses in millimetres. With these you’ll be able to see some of the bigger craters on the moon, spot the four largest moons of Jupiter, identify star clusters along the Milky Way, and you’ll be amazed by how the moon looks through these during that upcoming eclipse. 

Study up 

You’ll get so much more out of your stargazing experience if you know a little more about what you’re looking at. There’s a galaxy of information on the web. Some of the most interesting sites are: 

  • NASA has a wealth of information including images, videos and resources covering its planetary probes and telescopes.
  • UniverseToday.com or Space.com have all the latest news.  
  • Australian magazine site Skyandtelescope.com.au offers plenty of observing tips, along with astronomy.com.
  • Start your day by taking in the Astronomy Picture of the Day, taken by our best telescopes, probes and astrophotographers, at apod.nasa.gov.  
  • To see what’s in orbit go to heavens-above.com, which will tell you when the International Space Station is going past and when you can see the Starlink chain of satellites. 

Join the gang 

Star gazers are a passionate bunch who love to share knowledge and learn from others. If you’re keen to know more, consider joining the Astronomical Society of Victoria,  the state’s biggest astronomical group, which offers events, a library, access to its lodge and dark-sky site, along with telescope loans. 

If you’re in the Dandenong Ranges try Mount Burnett Observatory, or on the Mornington Peninsula contact the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society.

All three organisations have an extensive social media presence, and you’ll find many more social media groups if you search for ‘astronomy’, ‘aurora’ or ‘astrophotography’. Or follow me on Facebook under Perry Vlahos Astronomy, where I give you a heads-up of the best astronomical phenomena before they occur. 

‘Borrow’ a telescope 

If you don't have a telescope, but really want a one, for example, to get an image of the Orion nebula or the Jewel Box Cluster beside the southern cross, there’s several remote-access telescopes positioned in observatories around the world. If you’ve never used a ’scope before there’s a tutorial to help you get started. There are fees involved as maintaining these instruments costs money.