Morning Lunar Eclipse on Jan. 31

Want to see the 2018 total lunar eclipse on the morning of Wednesday, January 31? You'll need an unobstructed view toward the western horizon and ideal weather. For example, from New Buffalo, MI, look over Lake Michigan toward Chicago.

Around 5:51 a.m. EST the penumbral phase begins, during which you may see the full moon diminish in brightness, though most people cannot readily discern when the moon has moved into the faint outer penumbral shadow of the earth (https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/@5003375).

The real action for most observers begins just after 6:48 a.m. when the moon slips into the darker, inner shadow called the umbra. The moon appears to move against the background stars from right to left (west to east) into the shadow, even though the whole earth is rotating faster so the moon and stars themselves all appear to move from east to west, like the sun.

Unfortunately, the moon at the beginning of the partial phase is suspended only 12 degrees above the horizon. If you held your fist out at arm's length in New Buffalo and rested the bottom of your fist on Chicago, the full moon should be visible just over the top of your fist. By 7:30 p.m., the moon is in the middle of your fist.

The dark shadow encroaches across the moon, with total lunar eclipse finally achieved just as the moon is setting. That's the theory. Complicating things significantly is the approaching sunrise, which brightens the sky and washes out the eclipsed moon. The sun rises in the east at 8:00 a.m., moments before the moon sets in the west. It is likely necessary to have binoculars or a telescope when the background is so bright. By then, the scene can be admittedly underwhelming (unless some kind of serendipity at sunrise happens, or you see Tiangong 1 crash), if you can even see the moon at all. Remember, the full moon is getting darker during totality, so it's less easy to see (or is invisible) against the whitening sky.

If you want to see the whole thing, go to Hawaii or Alaska or Australia. Fred Espenak cites the eclipse circumstances at http://www.eclipsewise.com/lunar/LEprime/2001-2100/LE2018Jan31Tprime.html.

Because the 2018 lunar eclipse occurs during the second full moon of one calendar month, some people label it a blue moon. And, yeah, some people want to call it a supermoon, too, cuz the moon is closer to earth in its slightly elliptical orbit than other times. Move beyond the hyping semantics and instead simply enjoy the spectacle.

I have observed two similar morning eclipses from the Michigan shoreline. For a glimpse at what you may expect to see, I describe the 2014 October 8 eclipse at https://www.nightwise.org/single-post/2014/10/09/October-2014-Lunar-Eclipse-Recap. The 2015 April 4 event is described at https://www.nightwise.org/single-post/2015/04/06/Serendipity-at-Sunrise.

The next total lunar eclipse visible in the US is January 20-21, 2019. (Time & Date)

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