Celestial News: Don’t miss November’s lunar eclipse
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
For the second time this year, Coloradans will be treated to a beautiful eclipse of the Moon. The action starts just after midnight on the night of Nov. 18, technically, the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 19.
There are two astronomical eclipse seasons every year, six months apart, when eclipses of the sun and moon can happen. It’s not a surprise, then, to have a second lunar eclipse this month, six months after the first one in May. The lunar eclipse last May 26 was a total eclipse, meaning the moon was completely covered by the Earth’s dark shadow. While this month’s eclipse is timed much better than the May eclipse for Coloradans and the West to watch, it isn’t quite total — 97% of the moon will be covered in shadow, leaving a tiny 3% sliver sticking out in the sunshine.
The umbral phase of the eclipse begins just after midnight, at 12:19 a.m. MST, when November’s full Beaver Moon begins to fade on its left edge. Maximum eclipse occurs at 2:03 a.m., when only 3% of the sunlit portion of the moon remains visible. The 97% of the moon immersed in the Earth’s shadow still will be faintly visible, glowing with the characteristic coppery color seen during a total eclipse. After maximum, the moon slowly moves out of the Earth’s shadow, and the umbral eclipse ends at 3:47 a.m., when the Beaver Moon returns to its full brilliance. If you are only interested in seeing the almost totally eclipsed moon, set your alarm for a few minutes before 2 a.m. The eclipsed moon will be high up in the southwestern sky.
The moon will be moving through the constellation of Taurus, the Bull, during this eclipse. Nearby, the glittering dipper-shaped Pleiades and V-shaped Hyades star clusters will light up the background sky. The bright orange star Aldebaran, representing the eye of the Bull, will shine about a handspan to the left of the moon, and the familiar stars of Orion, the Hunter, will twinkle beyond.
During the lunar eclipse, take notice of the shape of the edge of Earth’s dark shadow. It isn’t square or angular; it is a gentle curve, an arc of a large, dark circle. Ancient Greek thinkers realized that this meant Earth itself must be a sphere, as only a sphere would always cast a circular shadow.
Seeing a blood-red orb suspended in the starry sky is a stunning sight and is sometimes referred to as a “blood moon.” The reddish color actually has nothing to do with the moon itself but is caused by the sunlight being filtered red as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere before landing on the moon. It has been described poetically as the colorful light of every sunrise and sunset on Earth at that moment, projected onto the moon.
The next total lunar eclipse visible in Colorado occurs next year on May 15, six months from now, and will happen during the “prime time” early evening hours.
For information about astronomy-related events in Steamboat Springs, including public star parties at CMC’s Ball Observatory, contact physics and astronomy instructor Paul McCudden, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-870-4537 or visit the SKY Club web page at ColoradoMtn.edu/skyclub.
Jimmy Westlake is adjunct professor of physical sciences at Colorado Mountain College and former Ddirector of the Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College in Georgia and the St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium in Luling, Louisiana. His Celestial News column appears monthly in the Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at JWestlake.com.
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