Celestial News: Super moon eclipse coming May 26
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The Pacific Ocean region and Pacific rim countries will be treated to a total eclipse of the Super Flower Moon on May 26. For Coloradans, it will be a race against the sunrise to see all of this colorful eclipse.
The excitement begins before dawn May 26 when the full Flower Moon first touches the edge of Earth’s dark umbral shadow at 3:45 a.m. This dark bite will grow in size until 5:11 a.m., when the moon is totally engulfed in the Earth’s shadow. The first light of dawn will be filling the sky as the very brief total phase of the eclipse comes and goes. The total phase of a lunar eclipse can last from a few seconds up to a maximum of 107 minutes, depending on the geometry of the eclipse. For this eclipse, totality will last for only 14.5 minutes and end at about 5:26 a.m. The sun pops up just 17 minutes later, at 5:42 a.m., and the moon sets at 5:50 a.m. The last part of totality will be very challenging to observe in the bright twilight of dawn, but the earlier stages of the eclipse will happen in a much darker sky. Binoculars will be useful to see the details lost in the pending dawn.
Sunlight filtering through the Earth’s atmosphere can render the totally eclipsed moon a coppery yellow or deep red color. A blood red moon hanging in the blue sky of dawn is a striking thing to see.
This eclipse happens while the moon is near its closest point to Earth for the month, called perigee, and will look about 7% larger than your average full moon. In fact, this May’s full Flower Moon is the largest full moon in 2021, a so-called Super Moon.
The eclipsed moon is always exactly opposite the sun in the sky, an alignment called syzygy, so this predawn lunar eclipse will not be visible high up in the sky. In fact, to see this eclipse at all, you will need an unobstructed view of the sky all the way down to the southwestern horizon, opposite the rising sun. The top of a treeless mountain or hill would make a great observing spot.
Both solar and lunar eclipses repeat themselves in a period called the saros cycle, lasting 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours. The previous eclipse in this saros was May 15, 2003, but that one happened at sunset instead of sunrise. The next one will be June 6, 2039, and will not be visible in our hemisphere.
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long for our next chance to see a total lunar eclipse. This coming Nov. 8, we will be able to see a 97% eclipse of the moon — close, but not quite total. Then, next May 15, Coloradans will get a beautiful total eclipse of the moon during the prime-time early evening hours.
For information about astronomy-related events in Steamboat, including public star parties at CMC’s Ball Observatory, contact current physics and astronomy instructor Paul McCudden, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-870-4537, or visit the SKY Club web page at http://www.coloradomtn.edu/skyclub.
Jimmy Westlake is the former full-time professor of physical sciences at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs and former director of the Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College in Georgia and the St. Charles Parish Planetarium in Louisiana. His “Celestial News” column appears monthly in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Visit his website at JWestlake.com.
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