Don't Miss Your Last Chance to See a Total Lunar Eclipse Until 2025
Lunar eclipse image courtesy of NASA.
The second total lunar eclipse visible from West Michigan this year begins during predawn hours on Tuesday, November 8th, which of course is Election Day. The first total lunar eclipse on May 15th was unfortunately clouded out over much of the state.
The chance of clear conditions is worse in November, and this eclipse is not as conveniently timed. Still, if we get lucky where you are, and the skies are clear, it should be worth the effort to rise early and take it in. As of this posting, there looks like a better than 50-50 chance of at least partially clear skies.
Lunar eclipses can occur only when the moon is at full phase. That is when it is aligned opposite to the sun and capable of passing through the long cone shaped shadow the earth projects into space. Think of it as the earth getting in the way of sunlight normally reflected back to us by the moon.
The exact alignment required for a total eclipse will not happen again for us in Michigan until March of 2025. Lunar eclipses in 2023 and 2024 will be partial, with the moon encountering only the outer portion of the earth’s shadow or grazing its edge.
During Tuesday’s eclipse, the total phase begins at 5:16am and lasts for almost an hour and a half. The unfolding sight will add a bit of post Halloween spookiness to the predawn and twilight sky, with a dull, coppery red "ghost moon" hanging low in the northwest.
The moon’s fully illuminated edge will start to reappear in a rapidly brightening sky at 6:41am, roughly a half hour before sunrise. At that time, moonset in the northwest will also be eminent.
Only those living in the far west will be able to see the entire show from beginning to end from the U.S. Still, we in Michigan will be in a favored position to see its first half if the sky is clear. Remember that Daylight Saving Time ends on November 6th, so plan your viewing accordingly. Times that follow are valid throughout the Eastern time zone.
The eclipse’s most significant phases get underway around 4:00am EST, so if you wish to follow, and perhaps photograph, their progression, consider bundling up and heading outside by then. It might be a good idea to grab blankets or sleeping bags, retrieve that lounge chair you put away for the winter, and brew up a thermos of warm liquid.
At 4:00am, the moon is already immersed in the outer and far more subtle penumbral shadow of the earth. Its left half will look dull, hinting that an eclipse is underway. Things are about to get more dramatic as the moon moves through the darker umbra, the inner shadow, of our planet.
It encounters the edge of that zone at 4:09, commencing a wave of darkening that progresses for more than an hour until totality is reached at 5:16am. With the sky still dark, the following half hour or so will be prime viewing time for the eerie reddish ghost moon, or "blood moon" as it is referred to in some Native American legends.
The lunar disk remains faintly visible when passing through the umbral shadow, because that region, while dark, is not black. True, the earth is aligned exactly between the sun and moon, but a small amount of sunlight, primarily from the red part of the solar spectrum, leaks around its edge and into the shadow.
That light produces the feeble reddish glow as it is reflected back to us from the moon’s surface. The phenomenon is enhanced through binoculars or a small telescope.
There is no need to travel to a dark location, though the total phase could be more dramatic from rural areas as the fainter stars, normally drowned out in the light of the full moon, come into view. More important is a clear view toward the northwestern sky, where the moon will be sinking as the event progresses.