From USA Today. Skywatchers will enjoy a rare space triple-header Friday night and early Saturday morning: A “penumbra” lunar eclipse during the full “snow” moon — and the flyby of a comet.
Here’s a look at what you will see if you set your eyes to the night sky:
Penumbral lunar eclipse
Eagle-eyed skywatchers will see a “penumbral” lunar eclipse Friday evening during the full moon.
Not as spectacular — or noticeable — as a total lunar eclipse, this rather subtle phenomenon occurs when the moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow (known as the penumbra), according to EarthSky.org.
The outer shadow of the Earth blocks part — but not all — of the sun’s rays from reaching the moon, making it appear slightly darker than usual.
The exact moment of the penumbral eclipse is 7:43 p.m. ET (6:43 p.m. CT, 5:43 p.m. MT and 4:43 p.m. PT), NASA said.
The eclipse will be visible from Europe, Africa, western Asia and eastern North and South America, NASA reports.
About 35% of all eclipses are of the penumbral type.
Full “snow” moon
As required during any lunar eclipse, the moon will be full Friday night. And this month it’s nicknamed the “snow” moon.
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, full moon names date back to Native Americans in the northern and eastern U.S. Each full moon has its own name.
“The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon,” the almanac reports. “Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred.”
Calling February’s full moon the “snow” moon is right on target: On average, February is the USA’s snowiest month, according to data from the National Weather Service.
The Farmer’s Almanac reports some tribes referred to February’s moon as the “hunger” moon, because harsh weather conditions made hunting difficult.
A few hours after the eclipse, Comet 45P, which has been visible after sunset for the past two months through binoculars and telescopes, makes its closest approach to Earth, when it will be “only” 7.4 million miles away, NASA said.
Look to the east around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, where it will be visible in the sky in the constellation Hercules. Binoculars or a telescope could be helpful. Watch for a bright blue-green “head” with a tail.
It will be visible in various points of the night sky until the end of February, according to NASA. If you miss it, don’t worry: It will return again in 2022, said Jane Houston Jones of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“When a comet appears in the Constellation Hydra, there is war and some conspire to overthrow the emperor. Fish and salt are expensive. Rice also becomes expensive. People hate life and don’t even want to speak of it.” (Record of the World’s Change, Li Ch’un Feng, 602-667 AD)
Image from Das Wundereichenbuch (The Book of Miracles), Augsburg, 1550
Asteroid 17473 was renamed Asteroid Freddie Mercury yesterday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Freddie Mercury is 2.2 miles across and sails between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at a speed of 12.5 miles per second. With a good telescope, it’s visible as a faint dot of light.
And if you listen very, very closely, you might hear this as it passes:
More here from the Guardian newspaper.
I’ll be reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses next Thursday here in New Orleans to help celebrate Bloomsday 2016. Not the whole book, of course.
If you can’t join us, then wherever you are, go out and have some Guinness and toast the Irish writer with the funny glasses.
Facebook link to Bloomsday 2016 in New Orleans, with details, here.