Celestial News: November offers a rare encore lunar eclipse
Although unusual, it isn’t unheard of to have two total lunar eclipses in the same year. That’s because the sun, moon and Earth align themselves for eclipses two times every year, six months apart, during what we call our eclipse seasons. That doesn’t guarantee two total lunar eclipses will happen, but there is always a chance.
This month’s total eclipse of the full hunter’s moon is the second of 2022, occurring six months after last May’s eclipse of the full flower moon. Unlike May’s eclipse, though, this month’s eclipse happens entirely after midnight, in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
When the full hunter’s moon rises at sundown on Monday evening, Nov. 7, it will be shining at full brilliance, with no indication that it will soon be blacked out by the Earth’s shadow. The moon will first touch the Earth’s shadow at 2:09 a.m. Then, over the next hour and seven minutes, the dark bite missing out of the full moon will grow until it swallows the whole moon at 3:16 a.m. This marks the beginning of totality.
Once it moves out of the sunshine and into Earth’s shadow, you will still be able to see a faint ghost of the moon glowing like a red-hot ember. This beautiful red light is caused by sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere and projecting onto the moon, very much like the alpenglow seen on snowy mountains at sunset. It is the combined light of every sunrise and every sunset happening on the Earth at that moment. From the moon, an observer would look up to see the dark orb of the Earth blocking the Sun and encircled by a glowing red ring of light.
Totality will last for one hour and 25 minutes, centered on 3:59 a.m. The total eclipse ends at 4:41 a.m., when the moon peeks back out into the sunshine. It will take another hour and eight minutes to completely emerge back into the sunlight at 5:49 a.m. when the eclipse ends.
The starry background for this eclipse is the constellation of Aries, the ram, and Taurus, the bull. During the darkness of totality, the sparkling Seven Sisters star cluster will shimmer about one handspan, held at arm’s length, above the moon. Above the Seven Sisters, the red planet Mars will burn brightly overhead.
Don’t be surprised if you see a few dazzling orange fireballs streak out of the constellation Taurus. The South Taurid meteor shower and the North Taurid meteor shower are both near their peak of activity the morning of the eclipse.
An extra bonus during this eclipse is an opportunity to spot planet number seven, distant Uranus, shining less than two degrees from the eclipsed moon. Uranus will be at its closest point to the Earth for the year and, consequently, as bright as it can get. Uranus is just barely visible to the unaided eye, so use binoculars or a small telescope to enhance the view. Look for it about three moon diameters from the edge of the eclipsed moon at the 11 o’clock position.
After two back-to-back total lunar eclipses in 2022, we go into a bit of an eclipse drought for a while. If you miss November’s encore total eclipse, you won’t get another opportunity until March 13, 2025.
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 email@example.com or 970-870-4537 or visit the SKY Club web page at http://www.coloradomtn.edu/skyclub.
Jimmy Westlake is adjunct professor of physical sciences at Colorado Mountain College and former director of the Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College in Georgia and the St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium, in Luling, Louisiana. His column appears monthly in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Check out Jimmy’s astrophotography website at JWestlake.com.
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