About 24 hours from now, the primary part of a total lunar eclipse starts.
You’ll probably be seeing clickbait headlines all day tomorrow, especially online. “How To Watch Sunday’s Rare ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’ Total Lunar Eclipse!!!” While I’ll say that a total lunar eclipse can be beautiful and cool and amazing and awe inspiring, I sort of despise the over the top hype.
First of all, it’s not particularly rare. Unlike a solar eclipse that might happen at a particular spot on the planet every several thousand years, lunar eclipses happen every few years. For example, this blog has now just turned nine years old and I think this will be at least the fourth lunar eclipse that I’ve covered, might be the fifth. It’s a stretch in my book to call that “rare,” but maybe I’m just not easily impressed.
Secondly, unlike a solar eclipse which can only be seen along a very narrow strip across the planet for a minute or two, and which requires some eye protection to safely see the partial phases, a lunar eclipse can be seen by half of the planet at a time and requires nothing other than your eyeballs. If you’re on the lucky half of the planet where the moon is up while it’s happening, go outside, look. No further rocket science is necessary.
Finally, I don’t know what a “Flower Blood Moon” is. The moon during a total lunar eclipse will turn some shade of red, from brownish-red to coppery red to orangish red. That makes it “cool” to talk about a “blood moon,” but since we moved out the hunter-gatherer days a few thousand years ago, I prefer the wonder and beauty of the science and reality rather than this pseudo-Neolithic affectation.
Big picture? The Earth’s shadow has a very dim and faint outer ring called the penumbra, and a much darker inner ring called the umbra.
- The Moon will start to enter the penumbra and it will be almost impossible to tell with the naked eye. You can ignore this part except for looking at how pretty and bright the 99.999999% full moon is.
- The Moon will start to enter the umbra (the partial eclipse begins). As it slowly moves in you’ll see a very noticeable, dark shadow moving across the moon until there’s just a sliver of the the moon fully illuminated. This takes an hour or so.
- The Moon will be completely inside the umbra (the beginning of totality) and will be some shade of red or orange or brown – it all depends on how the Earth’s atmosphere is, the amount of cloud cover at that moment, the amount of dust and water, etc. The shade, color, and amount of shading is highly unpredictable, one of the fun things to look for.
- The Moon will start to exit the umbra (the ending of totality) and we’ll just run this show backwards as the brightly lit portion of the moon starts to grow.
- The Moon finally exit the umbra (the partial eclipse ends) but still be in the penumbra for an hour or so. Again, you can ignore this.
Tomorrow night, those important times are:
- 21:32 EDT, 18:32 PDT (the Moon will still be below the horizon on the West Coast)
- 22:27 EDT, 19:27 PDT (the Moon will rise at about 19:40 PDT, so you’ll miss the first few minutes, but it’s not that big of a deal)
- 23:29 EDT, 20:29 PDT
- 00:53 EDT, 21:53 PDT
- 01:55 EDT, 22:55 PDT
- Go to sleep!
And examples of what it might look like?
A few minutes after the start of the partial eclipse in November 2021.
About halfway through the partial phase, just before the clouds completely covered up everything in November 2021.
Just before totality, September 2015. You can see how the coppery red color is covering about 90% of the Moon’s disc.
Totality from April 2015. You can see how the coloration and depth of the shadow can change from being lighter at the edge of the umbra (right side of this disc) to being much darker in the center (left side).
What will tomorrow look like? Who knows? Let’s hope that it’s not cloudy, wherever you are. Even if it is, I hope maybe you’ll catch a break in the clouds for a few minutes during totality to get a glance.
If you’re totally clouded out, check out some of the online coverage from NASA, Griffith Observatory, Lowell Observatory, or any number of other places that will be trying to livestream it.
Or check out my Facebook stream to see if I’m nuts enough to be trying to livestream it. Crazier things have happened!