Lawrence Hall of Science, 50 years: 1968-2018; University of California, Berkeley
lunar eclipse phases of the moon

This weekend, Bay Area residents have a prime opportunity to witness an exciting phenomenon. On Sunday, January 20th, a total lunar eclipse will occur, starting conveniently in the early evening and continuing until almost midnight. The best thing about celestial events like this is that anyone can watch them, even in your own backyard. The next total lunar eclipse visible from the United States will not occur until 2022, so you won’t want to miss this! Here are some tips for optimal viewing.

When?
The first faint shadows of the Earth will appear on the Moon at around 6:36 p.m., but the most noticeable part of the event will start at 7:33 p.m. when the darkest part of Earth’s shadow begins to cover the Moon. The Moon will be totally within Earth’s shadow beginning at 8:41 p.m., lasting until 9:43 p.m. After that the Moon will slowly move out of Earth’s shadow and the whole thing will be over at 11:48 p.m. (All times are Pacific Standard time. For observers in time zones farther east, clocks will give a later time.)

Where?
Look east, fairly low, at the beginning of the eclipse. The Moon gets higher and moves southeast as the eclipse progresses, making for prime viewing (weather permitting). A telescope is not necessary to see the eclipse, making the event perfect for backyard star gazers.

This lunar eclipse will be visible across North and South America, as well as in some western parts of Europe and Africa.

If you would like to venture out and join some fellow stargazers, our friends at the Chabot Space & Science Center are having a viewing party! You can also watch the eclipse online, should the weather permit outdoor viewing.

illustration of the lunar eclipse
Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

What?
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon enters the Earth’s shadow. The shadow cast by our planet actually has more than one distinct part. As the Moon moves into the outer part of the shadow, called the penumbra, a faint shadow appears on the Moon.

The Moon is not completely blacked out during a total lunar eclipse. Earth’s atmosphere bends and scatters sunlight, and some of that light reaches the Moon even when it is in Earth’s shadow. Light with shorter wavelengths gets scattered in different directions, leaving light with longer wavelengths, including orange and red light, to pass through. This may make the Moon look a dull orange color or sometimes even a deep red color, which is known as a Blood Moon.

The effect will be magnified by the Moon’s larger and brighter appearance in the sky, which is known as a Super Moon. This occurs when the Moon is near its closest point to Earth in its orbit. Additionally, the full Moon in the month of January has historically been called the Full Wolf Moon. Put it all together and what we’ll be witnessing this weekend has been dubbed the Super Wolf Blood Moon!

We hope the clouds keep away long enough for us to witness and share this celestial event with friends and family. If you take any pictures of the Eclipse, we want to see them! Share yours on social media using #LawrenceHallofScience!

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