TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE: What you need to know

TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE: What you need to know

A Super Blood Wolf Moon is coming! It’s a mouthful that’s fancy talk for a really good total lunar eclipse. The eclipse will occur late Sunday night and into early Monday morning and is visible across all of North America. It’s the last total lunar eclipse until May of 2021. So see it now or forever hold your peace (until 2021, at least).

WHAT IS IT? A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the Sun & the Moon, blocking sunlight and casting a shadow on the Moon. This shadow causes the Moon to turn a deep shade of red. They happen every so often, but only parts of the globe get to see the show. This particular event is in our wheelhouse.

This eclipse comes with an added perk...proximity. The Moon is extra close to Earth Sunday night. Like anything else, the closer you are to something the bigger it appears. That’s the “super” element of the name.

Difference
Difference

Compared to a “regular” full Moon, this one will appear slightly larger and brighter. Will you notice the difference? I’ve often struggled to truly convince myself it looks any different, but any subtle effect you’re eye can catch will only be to our benefit. Bigger and brighter are always better, right?

HOW DO I SEE IT? The Moon will be rising in the east/southeast sky Sunday night, so that’s where you’ll need to look.

Eclipse
Eclipse

The partial eclipse begins at 9:33pm local time. In my experience, there isn’t a whole lot of viewing pleasure in the partial phase of a lunar eclipse. The Moon is gradually starting to darken, but it isn’t particularly visually appealing. The fun really cranks up at 10:41pm when the total eclipse begins. The Moon is fully immersed in Earth’s shadow, and were it not for our atmosphere would be completely dark. But we do have an atmosphere, serving to cast the Moon in a deep red hue for about an hour. The total eclipse ends at 11:43pm.

I’m a nerd. I camp out to watch the whole thing. But I know not everyone is like that. If you want to grab a quick peek at the best this eclipse has to offer, look up between 10:41-11:43pm. Better yet, target 11:12pm when we’re at maximum eclipse. That’s as good as it’s going to get in terms of color change.

WHAT ABOUT CLOUDS? An eclipse is only as good as your ability to see it through potential cloud cover. A strong cold front will swing through the area Saturday. Drier air funnels in Sunday, resulting in mostly clear skies. Overall, the cloud situation looks excellent with a high probability you’ll be able to see most if not all of the eclipse (should you so choose). That’s fortunate for us as not all of the U.S. will be that luck. But it’s going to be cold. Really cold. Temperatures will be falling through the 30s during the eclipse with wind chills into the 20s. Not pleasant, but do-able.

Clouds
Clouds

TIPS I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY: A lunar eclipse is less visually stunning than a total solar eclipse. There’s no dramatic change in daylight & temperature during totality. So if that’s what your thinking this is, you’ll sadly be disappointed and won’t enjoy an otherwise really cool thing. You have to go into it appreciating it for what it is...a really neat & fairly rare celestial event. It’s memorable and well worth your time. Here are a few tips I’ll offer to better your experience...

-Plan ahead. Have a location picked out ahead of time. The landscape can play a role if tall trees/branches obscure the view. Find a good spot with nothing blocking your view upward.

-Dress warm. Seeing the whole show is a marathon, not a sprint (although you can make it a sprint if you’d like). With wind chills falling in the 20s, being outside for several hours is not going to be pleasant unless you’re layered up like lasagna. Nothing like a little frostbite to ruin your night.

-If you have the kids, bring a few distractions. An eclipse is a slow and methodical process. Not everyone under 13 years old is going to be fully engaged in the show the whole time if you get my drift.

-If you plan to photograph the eclipse, don’t expect to have much luck with your cell phone. Remember, the Moon is in shadow. Your phone is going to have a hard time both focusing and even picking it up. And if it does, it’s going to look terrible. Opt instead for the DSLR with a tripod. A higher ISO and slower shutter speed will help you capture the moment in all it’s eclipse-y glory.

It’s a late Sunday night show, but keep in mind Monday is MLK Day. Kids and many adults don’t have to get up early Monday morning, so I encourage you to take advantage of the free display. They don’t happen often with crystal clear skies, so enjoy!

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