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Shadow on the Moon

 

Last updated 6/10/2021 at 10:36am

Unlike an eclipse of the sun, a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to view without protective filters.

During the early morning hours of May 26, night owls and early risers will enjoy a beautiful eclipse of the moon.

The celestial cover-up begins at 2:45 a.m. PDT (5:45 a.m. EDT) when the moon's eastern edge will enter the Earth's dark inner shadow (the umbra). Unfortunately, those in the eastern half of North America will see the moon set before the eclipse progresses very far.

The moon will continue to dim as it enters deeper into our planet's shadow until 4:11 a.m. PDT (5:11 a.m. MDT) when the moon becomes totally eclipsed. During totality, western viewers under a clear sky will see it suspended eerily among the stars of Scorpius in a deep-blue twilight sky, with the moon appearing a strange coppery hue.

This deep orange 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 on that morning will depend on how clear our planet's atmosphere is at the time. During totality, the moon's appearance can range from bright orange to practically invisible.

Only 15 minutes after beginning, the total phase will end. Eclipse watchers in western North America will see this occur at 4:26 a.m. PDT (5:26 a.m. MDT), not long before the moon sets in the west.

For another hour or so, the moon will continue drifting out of the Earth's umbral shadow, but only those in the Pacific islands will be able to see it exit completely at 2:52 a.m. HST.

To find the times for your town, visit the interactive map at timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2021-may-26. Here you can scroll around, zoom in and click on your location to get more details for your area. You'll also find helpful links there for some terrific animations and even a link to watch the eclipse via live stream, in case you live too far to the east or your sky is cloudy that morning.

Unlike an eclipse of the sun, a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to view without protective filters. All you need are 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. For those able to see totality, the sky will darken, and the moon will appear suspended against the countless stars.

Our next lunar eclipse will occur in November of this year, and all of North America will get to see it. Technically, this will be a partial eclipse, but the moon will pass so deeply into the umbral shadow that it will appear to be nearly total.

To find links about how lunar eclipses work or how to try your hand at photographing this celestial spectacle, check out Fred Espenak's webpage at mreclipse.com. And to discover if anyone in your area might be hosting a free lunar eclipse viewing party, check with your local planetarium, college or amateur astronomy club.

Visit Dennis Mammana at dennismammana.com.

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