Jimmy Westlake: Don't miss Sunday's total eclipse of the Super Wolf Moon | SteamboatToday.com

Jimmy Westlake: Don’t miss Sunday’s total eclipse of the Super Wolf Moon

Jimmy Westlake
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
The full Super Wolf Moon will be eclipsed for all of North America on Sunday, Jan. 20. Will this eclipse be as colorful as the one on April 4, 2015, shown here? Every total lunar eclipse is different, so we'll have to wait and see. (Photo by Jimmy Westlake)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Every object placed in direct sunlight casts a shadow, whether it’s a beach ball or a planet. As the Earth and moon orbit each other, the two occasionally pass in and out of each other’s shadows, creating unusual events that we call eclipses.

The word eclipse comes from the Greek word meaning “to abandon.” Thus, during a solar eclipse, the sun abandons us as Earth passes into the moon’s shadow. During a lunar eclipse, the moon abandons us as it passes into the Earth’s shadow.

This shadow play would happen every month, if the Earth and moon orbited in the same plane, but as it is, the 5-degree tilt of the moon’s orbit means that the shadows miss their mark most of the time. Only when the sun, moon and Earth line up perfectly can an eclipse occur. These eclipse “seasons” happen twice a year, roughly six months apart.

If you go

What: Total eclipse of the Super Wolf Moon
When: 8:33 p.m. eclipse begins, 10:12 p.m. eclipse totality, 11:50 p.m. eclipse ends
Where: North America

On the night of Sunday, Jan. 20, the alignment of worlds will be nearly perfect and North America will be treated to a spectacular total eclipse of the moon. The January full moon traditionally is nicknamed the Wolf Moon, and this year, the Wolf Moon occurs the same day as the moon’s perigee, or closest point to the Earth. This makes the Wolf Moon simultaneously a Super Moon. A Super Moon can appear up to 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than other full moons, certainly enough to be noticeable to the human eye.

So, when the sun goes down on Sunday, you’ll see the full Super Wolf Moon rising over the mountains to the east. At about 8:33 p.m., you’ll notice a darkening of the lower portion of the moon’s disk. This is the edge of the Earth’s dark shadow, and over the next hour, the moon will move deeper and deeper into it.

By 9:41 p.m., the moon will be totally immersed in the shadow and out of the direct sunlight, yet it will still glow with an orange-red color. This is the red light of every sunrise and sunset around the nighttime edge of the Earth being cast upon the moon.

Mid-eclipse occurs at 10:12 p.m., and the moon will be its deepest in the Earth’s shadow. During the darkness of totality, look for the ghostly glow of the Beehive star cluster to the moon’s lower left. At 10:43 p.m., the moon will reach the opposite side of Earth’s shadow and totally comes to an end. It will take another hour for the Super Wolf Moon to fully emerge back into the sunlight and after 11:50 p.m., it will once again shine with its former brilliance.

Enjoy this eclipse. Colorado won’t see another total lunar eclipse until May 26, 2021.

Jimmy Westlake’s "Celestial News" column appears monthly in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. This was previously published in the Dec. 30 Steamboat Pilot & Today. 

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