Hey Sky Fans!
Would you believe it? Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t really had much time to think about this weekend’s eclipse. This morning, though, on my drive to work, my mind started drifting as I watched scattered snow fall among the bare branches along the roadside. I started to get really excited for this weekend. As most of you know, (thank you, again for reading), I love a good, or even a bad, lunar eclipse.
They’re mellow; subtler than their solar cousins. They’re nuanced and slow, and go about their business without attracting too much attention. They’re just my kind of spectacular.
One of the things I love most of all is how accommodating they are. Earth’s shadow is much bigger than the Moon’s shadow is, and the Moon is much smaller than Earth. So, everyone, anywhere on Earth where the Moon is above the horizon during the eclipse will be able to see it, weather-permitting. That’s different than in a solar eclipse, where totality is limited to a narrow and fast-moving band. Plus, you can look with your naked eyes!
This weekend, lots of us are in for some pretty terrible weather, but if you’re able to see it, it’s a chance for you to take in a few things other than just the Moon turning red.
As things really start to move, and the Moon enters the deep, dark umbra, you’ll slowly see reddish shadows overcome the Moon’s face. As this happens, look around a little.
Before the darkening starts, you’ll see the light of a bright full Moon around you. Watch as that lighting dims and changes. The Moon-lit shadows will soften and dim. If your town is snowy, do the boot prints, sledding tracks, and paw prints look different?
As the Moon moves through Earth’s shadow, you’re actually seeing it move in its orbit. The Moon will enter Earth’s shadow from the west and leave it toward the east, while the rest of the sky rotates from east to west. What you’re seeing is not just our usual perspective on Earth’s rotation, but also the combined movement of the Moon itself moving in the opposite direction relative to the stars. The eclipse’s shadow gives us a reference for the Moon’s own movement. It’s also interesting to think that Earth’s shadow is always there, always reaching off into space. We just rarely think about it.
With binoculars, I like to watch the shadow creep across and slowly swallow craters and lava seas. Maybe imagine, as many people have said, the view from the Moon. Shows will wash over people there and make Earth into a backlit-void in the starry sky. The Sun blotted out, with our atmosphere glowing reddish with the combined light of all the world’s sunrises and sunsets at once. There, an early twilight would come and the rocks and regolith would turn a deep dusky red.
Speaking of the background stars, once totality hits, look at the stars around the Moon. This lunar eclipse will last over and hour, so you have time. Try to see the bigger view. It’ll be in the constellation Cancer, and look like it’s between Pollux and Procyon, woven into the fabric of the Winter Hexagon. The stars around it, which would normally be faded bright full Moonlight should seem a bit brighter, just a little, than during a regular full Moon. What would astronomers at Pollux look at Earth during this eclipse see of us?
Lunar eclipses are incredible. I hope you’ll be able to grab some friends or family, keep warm, and have a look.
Clear skies, everyone. Enjoy the show.