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A 'wolf moon' eclipse is howling at our door: Here's what that means

A particular kind of lunar eclipse is in store for Jan. 10, but only for certain parts of the world.

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A brilliant full moon rises at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2017.

NASA/Kim Shiflett

The first lunar eclipse of the decade will arrive this week. First, the bad news: The Americas won't get to witness the wolf moon eclipse on Friday, Jan. 10 in person. Now for the good news: You can still watch it online. 

"Wolf moon" is the evocative nickname given to a full moon in January (where that nickname comes from exactly is unclear). It won't turn you into a werewolf. It's just a normal full moon. What makes the Jan. 10, 2020 version special is a penumbral lunar eclipse, visible mainly in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

A penumbral lunar eclipse isn't as dramatic as a total eclipse since the moon is merely caught in Earth's outer (penumbral) shadow. You might notice a slight darkening of the moon during the celestial event. It's a subtle effect that takes keen eyes to discern.

A penumbral eclipse can still be a fun experience, especially if you have a good view to enjoy. To that end, check out the live online feed from the Virtual Telescope Project, which kicks off at 9 a.m. PT on Friday. The livestream will show the moon over the skyline of Rome.

This week's eclipse will be the first of four penumbral eclipses in 2020. The next is set for June 5. 

We'll need to be satisfied with these fainter eclipses this year since the next total lunar eclipse won't happen until May 2021. You can always go back and enjoy the views of last year's "super blood wolf moon" eclipse to tide you over.

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