The first major astronomical event of the year will occur on Sunday evening January 20th. That night, as the Moon slides through the Earth’s shadow, we’ll enjoy our first total lunar eclipse across the mid-south since Jan. 2018 when the eclipsed moon set at dawn. We have to go back to Sept. 2015 for our last full total eclipse (you may remember it was the last of the four blood moons phenomena…).
This eclipse is well placed on a Sunday evening of a three day weekend.
A Supermoon Eclipse
The Moon will be nearing perigee, its closest point to the Earth for this orbit (occurs 2pm Monday), making this a Supermoon Eclipse. With the Moon being closer to Earth, around 218,000 miles at the time of the eclipse, its apparent size in our sky is larger. The Earth’s shadow at this closer distance is also larger by a few percent, thus it would normally take a little longer to move through. However, since the Moon is at its closest to the Earth, it is moving the fastest in its orbit more than making up for the size difference. In fact, we’ll see an eclipse similar to this one in 2025 where the Moon will be 30,000 miles farther away and the eclipse will last seven minutes longer.
The eclipse begins as the moon enters Earth’s outer penumbral shadow at 8:36pm. As viewed from the Moon’s southeastern limb this is when the Earth begins to cover the Sun. It takes almost 1/2 hour however, until enough of the Sun is covered to start noticing a difference. Beginning around 9pm look for some light shading on the southeastern edge of the Moon.
At 9:34pm the southeastern limb enters the umbral shadow. It is at this time the Earth is fully covering the Sun from this spot on the Moon. For the next hour the Moon slides into the northern half of the Earth’s shadow.
At 10:41pm totality begins with the Sun hidden from view across the entire lunar surface. From now until 11:43pm, when the Sun begins to peak back out on the northeastern limb, the Moon is illuminated only by the red glowing ring of light around Earth. It is the glow of our atmosphere at sunrise/set around the rim of our planet. If Earth had no atmosphere, the Moon would be completely dark.
Mid-Eclipse occurs at 11:12pm. The Full “Wolf” Moon occurs a few minutes later at 11:16pm.
The umbral eclipse ends at 12:50am when the first sunlight reaches the last of the lunar surface on the southwestern limb of the Moon. The last bit of penumbral shadowing will probably be visible until around 1:15am. Finally at 1:48am, as seen from the Moon, the Earth will have moved fully off the Sun.
What to Look For
One of the biggest questions with each lunar eclipse is how dark will it get? It is entirely dependent on that red glowing ring of air around Earth. If it is clear, with few clouds, we can expect a bright eclipse. If there is a lot of dust, soot, smoke (from volcanoes or forest fires) or clouds it will be dark.
Stars that would normally be hidden from view will also come out. If you have binoculars or a small telescope, the brightest star the Moon will occult during the eclipse is HIP 40270, a 7.8 magnitude star. The Moon will move in front of it at ~11:09pm
It is also interesting to consider this is the spot in the sky that is exactly opposite the Sun, and that in 6 months, 3 days and 12 hours on July 24 at noon this is the spot the Sun will be at.
The Next Lunar Eclipse
Enjoy this celestial spectacle. We’ll have another sunrise lunar eclipse on Nov. 19, 2021. Our next good lunar eclipse won’t be until the evening of May 15, 2022.
The January 20th Supermoon Total Eclipse.
This image may be freely used by the public and media to report on the upcoming eclipse.
If you’re interested in trying to photograph the eclipse with a telescope or binoculars (the binoculars need to be mounted) using your smartphone, then you’ll need an adapter like the one below. This is the one we use on our equipment and have gotten good results.