Hey, Sky Fans!
What’s happening? Racing into the second half of the year, we got a couple things going on that we shouldn’t miss. So, let’s get to it. I’ll use a couple of headings here in case you want to jump back and forth.
Partial Penumbral Lunar Eclipse, July 4-5, 2020
First, are you seeing all this lunar eclipse hysteria, too? Maybe we’re all in our little Google-induced silos and so, we see tons of space news and assume everyone else is seeing the same thing… wait… are you seeing lots of stories about a new Back to the Future trilogy, too?
We talked about this briefly the other day, so let’s see if I can do it in one breath…. and go!
Overnight July 4 – 5 US time, the top part of the Moon (from our POV) will slide through the penumbra, the thin outer part of the Earth’s shadow and give us what we call a partial penumbral lunar eclipse coming up overnight on July 4 – July 5 US time. Maximum eclipse is just before 12:30am EDT July 5.
This is, in no uncertain terms, a minor eclipse. So, while I definitely think you should go out and look, please please please, don’t expect one of those deep, burnt red lunar eclipses. This will just be a thin greying that you’ll really need to search for even in the best of skies. But, go, please go. The worst that’ll happen is you’ll spend a few minutes staring at the Moon. But please understand, this is going to be subtle and don’t judge all of astronomy based on it. With great power comes great… what’s the word?
Did I do it? I did. High five.
Ok… on to bigger things.
Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon – July 5
If you only have one night to look up, though, I’m sorry to hear it. On Sunday night, July 5, the Moon will team up with the our old chums Jupiter, the stripey one, and Saturn, the maybe-those-are-ears one. My DeLorean’s in the shop, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet the upside-down triangle they’ll make will be absolutely stunning. So, just head out once it’s good and dark and look along the southern sky for the big, bright glowy thing. J00ps (on the right) and Saturn (à gauche) will be just above. The stars of the Sagittarius and its teapot asterism will be off to their right.
For a little timing, the full Moon is the night before, like we said. Full Moons rise around sunset. So, the night-after-full Moon rises a little later. Plus, even though they’re slowly getting longer, night falls late this time of year. You might need to make time to go out and see.
When we head out for a look, let’s stand there for a minute and really soak up what we’re looking at. The Moon’s our closest neighbor, just a couple hundred thousand miles or km away. From there, our gaze reaches out deeper into the solar system. Past the orbits of Mars and countless minor planets in the asteroid belt. Then, nearly half a billion / 750 million km behind the Moon — five times farther from the Sun than Earth is, we get to Jupiter and its 79 moons. But, then we keep going! It’s almost all that way again until we get to Saturn and its 82.
Out there are the two biggest planets and 162 of our solar system’s moons — including all six of the biggest ones — squeezed into a triangle you can block out with the palm of your hand.
This is all just an optical illusion; a trick of perspective. We just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Then, by the sunrise, it’s all over, the Moon will cruise by unaware that anything interesting was going on, and sink deeper and deeper into the overnight shift as it wanes away.
Like, wow, right?
I hope you’ll take a few minutes and look. Clear skies, everyone.