By Vinita Domier
NASA Solar System Ambassador
Viewers in the western USA will experience an extra special ‘super blood moon’ eclipse on Wednesday, May 26 during the predawn hours when the full moon will be totally eclipsed for 15 minutes from 4:11am to 4:26am. No special equipment or precautions are needed to watch this spectacular celestial show except clear view of the southwestern sky. The next opportunity to view a total lunar eclipse locally will be on May 15, 2022.
An eclipse occurs when the view of a celestial body is temporarily obscured as it transits through another celestial body’s shadow. During a lunar eclipse, the moon is eclipsed when it passes through the earth’s shadow. This can only occur during the moon’s full phase when the earth is between the sun and the moon in a straight-line alignment, known as synergy of the sun-earth-moon system. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire full 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.
During a total lunar eclipse, the full moon gradually moves into the earth's dark shadow (partial eclipse), then is completely engulfed in this dark umbral shadow (total eclipse), followed by gradually moving out of the earth's shadow (partial eclipse). For local observers, the initial partial phase of the lunar eclipse on May 26 will begin at 2:45am, totality will be from 4:11am - 4:26am, and the final partial phase will end at 5:52am just before the moon sets the southwestern sky.
During the totality part of the lunar eclipse, the eclipsed moon is not completely obscured from view. It is faintly illuminated by the reddish components of sunlight that scatter off the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a reddish full moon that is popularly referred to as ‘blood’ moon. The hue varies from bright to deep red depending on the atmospheric conditions at the time of the eclipse.
If the full moon phase coincides with the moon’s closest approach to the earth (perigee) during its monthly elliptical orbit, it is popularly referred to as a ‘super’ moon. A supermoon appears 12-14% bigger in size and up to 30% brighter than a regular full moon due to its proximity. The full moon on May 26 is the biggest of the three consecutive supermoons occurring this year (on April 27, May 26, and June 24).
A lunar eclipse does not occur at every full moon because the orbital planes of the earth and the moon are tilted about 5° with respect to each other. The two planar intersection points are called nodes and they line-up with the sun every six month. A lunar eclipse can only occur if the moon is in full phase and is close to one of the nodes, resulting in the straight-line arrangement of the sun-earth-moon system.
Please join the Davis Astronomy Club on Wednesday, May 26 starting at 3:30am at the Explorit Science Center (3141 5th Street, Davis) for the special meeting to observe the total lunar eclipse through a telescope. Everyone is invited to the free viewing where we will follow social-distancing and mask-wearing protocols. For more information, please contact Vinita Domier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can register for the event at https://www.explorit.org/event-details/total-lunar-eclipse-viewing. Registration is not required.
Explorit’s coming events:
* Explorit’s Summer Science Camp is back for 2021! Beginning in June and running through to the beginning of August, our camps are filled with fun, hands-on science activities. Summer camp runs from 8 to 11:15 a.m. Monday through Friday. Fee for summer camp is $175 for members and $200 for nonmembers. Available camps are designed for grades K-3, 1-4, and 4-6. Visit https://www.explorit.org/camps for more information and registration.
* Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the health and safety of our staff and visitors, our gallery will remain closed. Staff regularly check messages and email.
* Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate.
* Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member. An Explorit membership not only supports us but grants the recipient with free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer and after-school camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. For information, visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.