Cumberland Times-News

Columns

April 13, 2014

Early morning lunar eclipse this Tuesday

For the first time since 2011, our area may see a total lunar eclipse as the moon will pass through the Earth’s deep shadow.

There are solar and lunar eclipses each year. Some eclipses don’t draw attention because the moon appears only slightly dimmed; only part of the sun is blocked by the Earth. This Is a penumbral eclipse of the moon.

But Tuesday morning’s eclipse will have a grey or dim moon as the entire moon will spend over an hour in the Earth’s umbra or deep shadow.

By today, the weather forecasts for Tuesday morning should be available; you will know your chances of your seeing the eclipse. The eclipsed moon doesn’t appear black as some light will be bent around the edge of the Earth.

The weather conditions around the rim of the Earth will determine the darkening or color of the moon we’ll see during the eclipse.

At 9 p.m. Monday evening (4/14), the moon will appear nearly full with the orange planet Mars close by.

But at 2 a.m. Tuesday, the left edge of the moon will appear as if someone took a nibble out of it. In the next hour the Earth’s shadow will creep across the moon until all of the moon is darkened at 3:06 a.m.

The middle of the eclipse is at 3:46 p.m. Then at 4:25 p.m., the left edge of the moon will start to brighten, as it leaves the deep shadow (umbra). By 5:33 a.m. the moon will have escaped the Earth’s umbra completely.

If the weather is cloudy or overcast this Tuesday morning, there will be another lunar eclipse in the early evening hours of Oct. 8. This will also be the Harvest Moon.

In 2015, there will be a total lunar eclipse visible locally late in the evening of Sept. 27. Then there will be no lunar eclipses we can see until January 2019.   

The most spectacular eclipses are rarely seen total solar eclipses where the moon’s shadow touches the Earth’s surface. But only the narrow tip of the moon’s shadow reaches the Earth, being only a few hundred miles wide.

The moon’s orbital motion and the Earth’s rotation causes total solar eclipses to last just a few minutes.

The next total solar eclipse within reasonable driving distance of this area will cross the U. S. from Oregon and exit through South Carolina in the early afternoon of Aug. 21, 2017. From the Tri-State area, this will be a partial solar eclipse, where part of the sun is covered by the moon.

Solar eclipses are dangerous as many won’t protect their eyes and look directly at the sun.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: In addition to the lunar eclipse described above, the planet Mars will be closest to the Earth tomorrow (for 2014) when it is 57.4 million miles away.

Mars will appear as a bright, steady colored point near the moon on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The bright twinkling point also near the moon will be the star Spica of Virgo.

Late Wednesday evening, the moon will appear near the planet Saturn.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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