Image Credit: J.A. Blackwell
Lunar eclipse timelapse, wide field shot from moonrise to totality at the Total Lunar Eclipse Viewing event by the Phillips Exeter Academy Astronomy Club.
Early risers in North America will be treated to a special sight in the wee hours of January 31: a total lunar eclipse! Observers on the east coast will see the eclipse begin just as the Moon sets; folks further west will be able to see more of the eclipse before sunrise, including ruddy red totality if you are located west of the MIssippi River. Observers in Hawaii and further west in Asia and Australia will be able to see the entire eclipse from start to finish! For more details you can check out a NASA chart at the end of this article, or enter your city name on the Time and Date website to find exact times for your area.
A lunar eclipse happens when our Earth's shadow falls upon the Moon as our planet blocks the light from the Sun, and as this occurs the Moon's color will change to a striking red color. This striking color is why some may refer to a totally eclipsed Moon as a "Blood Moon." Speaking of colorful names for the Moon, you may hear folks refer to this full Moon as a "Blue Moon," but the name is not a reference to its color. It is an older term that means it is the second full moon in a month. On top of it all, it will also be a "Super Moon," since the Moon is full while at its closest approach to Earth in its orbit. Observers won't be able to tell the difference in apparent size of this moon (despite media hype to the contrary), but you will certainly be able to notice the changes in the Moon's appearance as Earth's shadow falls across its surface!
Image Credit: Michael Sangster
The members of the Arrowhead Astronomical Society called this particular early morning eclipse a "Bacon Moon" as it was visible in time for breakfast! This coming eclipse may also occur just in time for your own breakfast. From the "Lunar Eclipse Viewing" event on April 4, 2015.
If you are hosting an eclipse viewing party, you may find the following activity handy as a fun demo of why eclipses happen: the legendary Yardstick Eclipse Activity! You can find more tips on helping your visitors observe the total eclipse in this teachable moment activity from JPL, which also includes links to additional Moon-related science activities for classroom use. You can check the Night Sky Network calendar to see if there is a club hosting an eclipse viewing party near you too, of course!
NASA scientists will even be studying this eclipse to gather more data about how the Moon's surface changes when its temperature drops.If you were lucky enough to be see the total eclipse of the Sun last year, you probably noticed how much the air around you cooled as the Moon blocked the Sun's light. The same temperature drop happens on the Moon as our own Earth blocks the sunlight from the Moon, only even more extreme since the moon lacks the insulating blanket of an atmosphere.
Last Updated: January 22, 2018
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