BACKYARD STARGAZER: Coming in May: A total lunar eclipse
By Francis Parnell
In May, if the weather cooperates, a total lunar eclipse will be visible for us to enjoy.
An hour before dawn on the 1st, if you looked east, you might have seen two bright planets, dazzling white Venus and yellow Jupiter rising side by side.
Some 45 minutes after sunset on the 2nd, you might have looked west-northwest to see a very thin crescent Moon with elusive Mercury around 4 degrees lower right and the Pleiades 3 degrees lower right of Mercury.
About 10 p.m. on the 6th, look west, halfway up, to spot the waxing lunar crescent in Gemini, 3 degrees left of Pollux with Castor 5 degrees right of Pollux. Nice celestial lineup.
On the night of the 15th, watch the full Flower Moon rising. Then later an interesting celestial event occurs — a total eclipse of the Moon.
The Moon begins to enter Earth’s shadow at 10:28 p.m. Totality is at 11:29 p.m. Mid-eclipse is 12:12 a.m. on the 16th. Totality ends when the Moon starts to exit the shadow at 12:54 a.m. The term “Blood Moon” comes from the fully eclipsed Moon having a red or blood red appearance during totality.
Look southeast on the 16th to watch the Moon, one day past full, rise in tandem with red Antares only 2 degrees to the right.
One hour before sunrise on the 25th, the thin lunar crescent, with yellow Jupiter, and red Mars about 5 degrees to its upper right, form a nice compact grouping in the east-southeast.
45 minutes before sunrise on the 29th, look east-southeast to observe the best conjunction this month with bright Jupiter and dimmer red Mars. The two planets will only be one-half degree apart, the diameter of the Moon!
FAST FACT: During a total lunar eclipse, the longer wavelength red part of the visible spectrum is refracted (bent) by the atmosphere and lights the Moon while it’s in Earth’s shadow. If the Moon passes through, or near, the center of the shadow, it can have a very dark red appearance. Will this eclipse be bright orange, or will it be red? We’ll have to watch and see.
“Keep looking up!”