The Moon is about to head straight into the Earth’s shadow, giving those of us favored with clear skies, a rare and beautiful total lunar eclipse. The brilliant white Moon will turn a wonderful shade of red, and dimmed so much that the stars come out like there was no Moon at all.
The Moon will be in total eclipse a full 62 minutes.
All this happens Sunday night January 20, into Monday morning, January 21.
If you are watching from the Eastern Time Zone, the faint, outer "penumbral" shadow may be detected around 10:10 p.m.
The Moon then enters the dark "umbra" shadow, starting at 10:34 p.m. with a slight notch out of the left (eastern) side. This notch grows and grows, making the full Moon look like a crescent. As this bright crescent narrows, more and more of the Moon is engulfed in the dark shadow and the reddish hue overtakes it.
At this stage I imagine it to look somewhat like a view approaching astronauts would have of the planet Mars with its bright polar cap and dark surface markings (in this case, the so-called lunar seas that make up the "Man in the Moon" appearance).
Total eclipse starts at 11:41 p.m.; the middle of totality is at 12:12 a.m. Total eclipse ends at 12:44 a.m.
The rest is a repeat of the first part but in reverse. Partial eclipse is over at 1:51 a.m. and you may still able to detect the faint penumbral shadow though 2:15 a.m.
Of course if you live further west, the earlier you get to see this. Mid-totality in the Central Time Zone is at 11:12 p.m.; Mountain Time Zone, 10:12 p.m. and Pacific Time Zone, 9:12 p.m.
Total eclipse should be especially dramatic in the East, since the full Moon in January is very high in the southern sky around midnight. When there is a snowy landscape out in the country, the effect of the moonlight is spectacular. This time around, for over an hour, the Moon’s brilliance vanishes.
The eclipsed Moon will be only about six degrees to the right (west) of a nice star cluster visible to unaided eyes, known as M44 or The Beehive. This dim patch of stars would never be noticed with the Moon so close, but this time you should be able to see The Beehive (unless light pollution is very bad). Note: the apparent width of the full Moon is approximately one-half degree.
Binoculars offer a splendid view of the eclipse.
Unlike a solar eclipse, an eclipse of the Moon is completely safe to look at without any filter or other means.
The view astronauts could have from the Moon would be just great. The red light of the eclipse comes from sunlight filtering through the Earth’s atmosphere. From the lunar surface one would see the black disc of the Earth covering up the Sun, and its edge glowing red like a fiery ring. You would be seeing all the sunsets and sunrises occurring all at once.
How dark and red the eclipse will be depends on the Earth’s atmosphere. High blown ash from volcanic eruptions can greatly dim an eclipse. Sometimes the Moon is a bright red-orange; at others it is dark brown or barely visible.
Send me your impressions and photographs!
Keep looking up!
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.