The (Eclipsed) Full Snow Moon

Hey, Sky Fans! February’s full moon, which will be up in your skies this Friday, the 10th, is called the Snow Moon, thanks to all the heavy snows that will usually have piled up by this time of year. I’ve also seen it called the Hunger Moon, because there wasn’t much food left come February.

I love winter’s full moons. They’re great because the nights are so long, which sends the moon arcing high into the sky all night. If you’re up early enough on Saturday, figure no later than about 6:15, moonset is at 6:33, you’ll be in for the rare treat of seeing a setting full moon, which, if you ask me, is a real jaw-dropping pleasure that, and don’t tell my family this, I sometimes sneak out of bed early to see.

This full moon is a bit of an interesting one. If you’re watching from the US, you’ll be able to see what’s called a penumbral lunar eclipse. We talked about this briefly yesterday.

When you see a shadow, no matter what it’s a shadow of, there are two main parts. A deep, dark part, which is called the umbra, and a paler, thinner outer part called the penumbra. You’ve probably never noticed the penumbra before because it’s so faint and you’re focused on the darkness (bwuhaha). If you look closely at a shadow some time, you can see it, especially on the shadows of bigger things. Trucks will have more pronounced penumbras than tea mugs. Earth’s penumbra is pronounced enough to swallow an moon or an armored battle station.

Here’s the catch. When you think of a lunar eclipse, you probably think of that deep red color. Think back to the later summer of 2015, if you can. We had a series of those red blood…. nope, not going to say it… eclipses, with the last at the end of September. It was the moon’s trip through the umbra of Earth’s shadow that gave the moon that deep dark red color.

Friday’s eclipse, on the other hand, won’t be like that. The moon won’t make it into the umbra, but almost its entire face will be strolling through the penumbra, but only the penumbra. This will leave it looking shady, a little dingy looking, but not red. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen one of these, so I’m not really sure how strong the effect will be when you see it; lunar eclipses are kind of unpredictable anyway.

If you happen to be in the northeast of the US, the moon will enter the earth’s penumbra right around when the moon rises, around 5:30 EST, and as the moon moves deeper into the penumbra, the eclipse will start to become visible a half hour or so later. Mid-eclipse is at 7:44 EST, which is 6:44 CST and 5:44 MST. The eclipse will already be at its max when the moon rises in the US west. The eclipse ends just before 10:00 EDT (9 Central, 8 Mountain, 7 Pacific).

The February 10-11, 2017 Lunar Eclipse
The February 10-11, 2017 Lunar Eclipse

Since eclipses are really all about on point of view, where you’re watching from, if you are on the near side of the moon during this eclipse, you’ll see the big belly of the earth lumber across part of the sun and leave the rest in the clear.

For those of you reading from the far side of the moon, you’ll keep saying “What’s an Earth?”

To sweeten the deal a little, the moon will be short distance in the sky from the bright star Regulus, though, really 75 light years apart. Regulus is the brightest in Leo, the lion, and the… brain don’t fail me now…. 21st brightest in the entire night sky.

This will be less dramatic than other lunar eclipses, but subtlety is good, and I certainly think it’ll be worth taking the time to check out. Plus, you know, if nothing else, you’ve spent a few minutes outside looking at the sky. Let me know how it goes and what you think. Clear skies, everyone!

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