Celestial News: See the total eclipse of the Flower Moon this month
It seems like the best celestial events too often happen in the wee hours of the morning, in the cold dead of winter.
Not so with this month’s spectacular total eclipse of the moon. It happens in the relative warmth of mid-spring and during the early evening hours before midnight.
Just as a refresher, a total lunar eclipse happens when the full moon passes into the shadow of the Earth and is temporarily blotted out. The totally eclipsed moon, however, doesn’t just disappear.
Sunlight filtering through the earth’s atmosphere illuminates the shadowed moon with an artist’s palette of reddish hues, giving rise to the term “blood moon.” It is literally the combined light of every sunrise and sunset on earth at that moment projected onto the moon.
May’s full Flower Moon will rise in the southeastern sky around 8:10 p.m. May 15, and the partial phases of the lunar eclipse will commence minutes later at 8:27 p.m.
For the next hour, the dark “bite” out of the moon will grow larger while it rises higher in the sky. Totality begins at 9:29 p.m. and ends at 10:53 p.m., with maximum eclipse occurring at 10:11 p.m. It takes another hour for the moon to slip out of the earth’s shadow and shine full again at 11:55 p.m.
The backdrop for this prime-time eclipse will be the stars of the constellations Libra and Scorpius.
The bright red star Antares, marking the heart of the celestial scorpion, will appear about one handspan below the moon. As more and more of the moon is gobbled up by earth’s shadow, more and more stars will become visible around the eclipsed moon.
Although no optical aid is required to view and enjoy this total eclipse of the moon, an ordinary pair of binoculars will enhance the view and provide a nice 3D effect.
There’s another total lunar eclipse coming in November, but this month’s prime time eclipse will be the more pleasant of the two to watch.
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 director of the Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College in Georgia and the St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium. His column appears monthly in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Check out Jimmy’s astrophotography website at http://www.JWestlake.com.
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