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Total Lunar Eclipse on January 31, 2018

This article appeared in the January 26, 2018 edition of the Davis Enterprise.


By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise


During predawn hours on Wednesday, January 31, viewers in western North America will experience an extra special ‘super blue blood moon’ eclipse during which the moon will be totally eclipsed for 76 minutes from 4:52am to 6:08am.


The January 31 total eclipse happens to occur when the moon is closest to earth during its monthly elliptical orbit and is in full phase, resulting in a supermoon that appears 12-14% bigger in size and hence up to 30% brighter. The eclipse will also be occurring during a blue moon as it is the second full moon in the same calendar month. During a total lunar eclipse the moon does not disappear completely as it is faintly illuminated by the sunlight scattered by the earth’s atmosphere, making the moon appear blood to copper red during totality.


A lunar eclipse can only occur during the moon’s full moon phase when the earth is in between the sun and the moon in a straight-line alignment, known as synergy of the earth-moon-sun system. Total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire moon is in the earth’s dark umbral shadow, whereas a partial eclipse occurs when only part of the moon is in the earth’s shadow cone. A lunar eclipse does not occur at every full moon because the orbital planes of the earth and moon are slightly tilted with respect to each other.


On January 31, the partial eclipse phase will begin at 3:48am. During the next 64 minutes, the silvery full moon will gradually become less visible as it will be go deeper into the earth’s shadow and transform from a full to a new moon.


For the next 76 minutes of totality, the moon will completely be in the umbral shadow and will appear reddish in hue. Starting at 6:08am, the moon will gradually become brighter as it will change from a new moon back to a silvery full moon by 7:11am.


The last minutes of this celestial show will not be visible to western North American viewers as the moon will also be setting in the western horizon, and the sun will be rising in the eastern horizon at that same time.


Also visible in the late January predawn sky are the planets Jupiter (magnitude -1.8 in the Libra constellation) in close proximity to the moon, followed by Mars (magnitude +1.2 in Scorpius constellation), and Saturn (magnitude +0.6 in the Sagittarius constellation) in the eastern sky, The iconic winter constellation, Orion the Hunter, and the grouping of stars comprising the Winter Hexagon asterism are visible during the first half of the night.


Please join the Davis Astronomy Club on Saturday, January 27 starting at 7:00pm at the Explorit Science Center (3141 5th Street, Davis for the discussion about the January 31 total lunar eclipse in particular and the winter night sky in general. Everyone is invited to the free meeting indoors, followed by a star party outdoors (weather permitting).



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