A Cold and Snowy Eclipse of the Moon

If the skies manage to clear Wednesday night, there will be a spectacular sight to behold: a total eclipse of the moon. And let’s hope for clear skies – the next total lunar eclipse for us isn’t until December 2010!

The last two lunar eclipses from here weren’t all that well timed for us here in Michigan. The eclipse of March 2007 took place as the moon was rising (and we didn’t see it because of the cloud cover that permanently (some think) hangs around this tie of year. And the August 2007 eclipse took place as the moon was setting. And again, some places around the state had clouds. Now we’ve got a February eclipse, and we all know the cloud situation at this time of the year. But one can always hope.

The eclipse this Wednesday has one thing in its favor: the timing. No already-eclipsed moon rising or setting. This one, we get to see the whole thing. The beginning partial phase of the eclipse starts just at 8.43pm, with the greatest eclipse (mid-totality) at 10.26pm. The event is over just past midnight.

At 8.43, you will begin to notice a small “bite” taken out of the edge of the moon, as the moon begins crossing into the Earth’s shadow. This darker area spreads across the surface of the moon during the next few hours, and by 10.01pm, the moon is completely immersed in shadow.

At this time the moon should have a bright, coppery orange color, as it is being lit from the sunlight that is being bent (refracted) as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. If it was not for this “prism” effect, the moon would be totally black, as no light would reach it.

The midpoint of totality is 10.26pm, and after that the moon slides out the other side of the shadow, with the total portion of the eclipse ending at 10.51pm and the partial eclipse ending just after midnight.

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You all know how bright the full moon is. It is the brightest thing in the night sky, drowning out the stars with its brilliance. Well, during a lunar eclipse, with the moon immersed in the Earth’s shadow, its brightness diminishes considerably, and the surrounding stars become visible for a short time. For this eclipse, the moon is near the planet Saturn in the constellation Leo, and during the darkest parts of the eclipse Saturn and the stars in the area will be prominently displayed for a short time.

And don’t be worried about looking at the eclipse. It is perfectly safe to look directly at a lunar eclipse. A solar eclipse is when you should not look directly at it. But a lunar eclipse, so ahead and let the wondrous sight fill your eyes.

With the still cold, and still snowy nights that are featured in February, the sight of an eclipsed moon hanging in the crisp, starry sky is a wondrous thing to behold. Let’s just hope it clears in time.

If you do see the eclipse, please let us know you thoughts about it.

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