Week of January 21-27, 2018
During the early morning hours of Jan. 31, night owls and early risers will enjoy a beautiful eclipse of the moon.
The celestial cover-up begins at 3:48 a.m. PST (6:48 a.m. EST), when the moon's eastern edge will enter the Earth's dark inner shadow (the umbra). Sky watchers in the eastern part of North America will see the moon setting during these partial phases.
The moon will continue to dim as it enters deeper into our planet's shadow until 4:52 a.m. PST (6:52 a.m. CST), when the moon becomes totally eclipsed.
During totality, the moon will darken and may take on a strange coppery hue. Viewers under a clear sky will see it suspended eerily among the stars of springtime. This coppery color occurs because sunlight passing through our planet's atmosphere is reddened and bent inward toward the darkened surface of the totally eclipsed moon. Just how colorful it appears depends on how clear our planet's atmosphere is at the time; during totality, the moon's appearance can range from a bright-orange color to practically invisible.
Eclipse watchers in the Midwest will enjoy seeing this reddened moon hanging beautifully in the deep-blue twilight over the western horizon.
An hour and 16 minutes after beginning, the total phase will end. Eclipse watchers in western North America will see this occur at 6:08 a.m. PST (7:08 a.m. MST), not long before the moon sets.
For another hour or so, the moon will continue drifting out of the Earth's umbral shadow, until it exits completely at 7:11 a.m. PST.
Unlike an eclipse of the sun, a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to view without protective filters. All you need is your eyes, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may find viewing to be even more enjoyable.
Of course, you'll be able to watch the sky show even from under bright city lights, but for a truly special display, venture out under the dark wilderness skies, where you've got a clear view of the western sky. Remember, during totality, the sky will darken and the moon will appear suspended against the countless stars. In fact, with binoculars you will spot the famous Beehive star cluster not far to the eclipsed moon's right.
To learn more details about how lunar eclipses work, check out Fred Espenak's terrific webpage here: mreclipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html. And if you'd like to try your hand at photographing this celestial spectacle, visit mreclipse.com/LEphoto/LEphoto.html for many more details.
To discover whether anyone in your area might be hosting a free lunar-eclipse viewing party, check with your local planetarium, college or amateur astronomy club.
If clouds should block our view of this total lunar eclipse — or if we just can't drag ourselves out of bed that morning — we'll have to wait awhile for the next one; it will occur on July 27, 2018, but it will be visible only to those in the world's Eastern Hemisphere. The next one visible in North America will be on the night of Jan. 20, 2019.
If it's cloudy where you are, or if you're in a location where you can't see it, you can still watch the show live online here: griffithobservatory.org/events/Lunar_Eclipse_January_2018.html.
Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.