The skies should be great for viewing the “harvest Moon” that will pass into the shadow of the Earth, resulting in a total lunar eclipse, this Sunday evening (September 27).
If you want to view the eclipse more closely, stop by the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College, beginning at 8 p.m. The CU Astronomical Society will have telescopes set up outside in the bus drop-off drive. Park in the M-1 lot and walk over.
Unlike their solar counterparts, lunar eclipses are very safe to observe. It is just like looking at a full Moon in the sky, but it will appear as if something is taking a bite out of the Moon! If skies are clear, anyone in the Midwest should be able to see the eclipse from their backyard.
The Moon will begin to enter the dark part of the Earth’s shadow at 8:07 p.m. The Moon will be completely inside the Earth’s shadow by 9:11 p.m. and will begin to emerge from the shadow by 10:23 p.m. The full Moon will appear back in the night sky by 11:27 p.m.
This full Moon will be closest to the autumn equinox, traditionally called the “harvest Moon,” with an eclipse midpoint occurring just 59 minutes after the Moon’s closest approach to the Earth, also called “perigee.” Some have called a full Moon near perigee a “supermoon.”
There are two things to look for while you’re watching this eclipse. The first is the curved shadow of the Earth. In ancient times, this was evidence that the Earth was, in fact, round and not flat. Second, after the eclipse is well underway, look for a reddish tint on the Moon. The red is from sunlight that bends through the Earth’s atmosphere. The blue is scattered out, which is why we have blue skies, leaving the red part of the spectrum to strike the Moon.
The next total lunar eclipse easily visible from central Illinois won’t be until January 2019, so I hope you get a chance to catch this one! (If the weather isn’t perfect, call the CUAS hotline at 217/351-2567 to see if the observing event at the planetarium is still occurring.)