The November 8th total lunar eclipse spans the Pacific and is the last until 2025.
Set your alarms: if skies cooperate, next Tuesday morning’s lunar eclipse on November 8th is worth getting up for and braving the cold. Not only is this one of the top astronomical events for 2022, but it’s also the last total lunar eclipse for a while…until, in fact, March 14, 2025.
Catching the Eclipse
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Unlike total solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses are long and stately affairs. On Tuesday, the Moon will pass through the northwestern dark inner umbra of the Earth taking over 1 hour and 24 minutes to complete totality, one of the longest for the current decade. The overall duration of the eclipse is even longer, spanning 5 hours and 54 minutes from first to last penumbral contact.
Timing for the Eclipse
Eastern North America, Central America and northwest South America will see the eclipse underway at sunrise/moonset, while eastern Asia and Australia will see the reverse, with a dramatic eclipse rising at dusk. Catching the eclipsed Moon low to the horizon always offers a great opportunity to nab it along with foreground objects. Northwestern North America, New Zealand and the Pacific will see the see the eclipse in its entirety, with totality occurring very near the zenith for Hawai’i.
Key times (in Universal/Eastern Standard Time) are as follows:
(P1)Penumbral 1st contact: 8:02UT/3:02AM EDT
(U1)Umbral 1st contact: 9:09UT/4:09AM EDT
(U2)Totality first begins: 10:16UT/5:16AM EDT
(U3)Totality ends: 11:41UT/6:41AM EDT
(U4)Umbral final contact: 12:49UT/7:49AM EDT
(P4)Penumbral last contact: 13:56UT/8:56AM EDT
Don’t forget to set those clocks back to Standard Time this coming Sunday, if you happen to live in a region that observes Daylight Saving Time.
Lunar eclipses always occur when the Moon reaches Full, opposite to the Sun. Standing on the Earthward side of the Moon during totality—a sight which no human astronaut has yet to witness—you’d see a total solar eclipse, with the atmosphere of the Earth lit red with a ring of twilights worldwide.
This crimson glow is evident on the face of the Moon during totality: longer red wavelengths of light get filtered into the cone of the Earth’s shadow, giving the Moon a ruddy cast. This is the ‘Blood Moon’ of modern internet meme fame. This can vary from one total lunar eclipse to another, from a bright saffron yellow to a brick brown tint. This is partly due to how central the Moon passes through the core of the Earth’s dark inner umbra, but mainly due to how much dust and aerosols are suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. For example: the shallow April 4, 2015 eclipse was extremely bright, prompting a lively discussion of the theoretical versus observed diameter of the Earth’s shadow at the Moon’s distance, and if the eclipse was actually total at all. Fast-forward to May 16, 2022 and a total lunar eclipse that was extremely dark, one of the most darkest in recent memory. This was mainly due to the recent Tonga eruption, which occurred just a few months prior on January 15th, 2022.
Don’t expect to see anything too spectacular as the penumbral phases of the eclipse begin; on a causal glance at the Moon, you wouldn’t notice anything much was afoot. You might start to notice a slight tea-colored shading on the Moon, about half an hour in. Things start to get interesting as the Moon nears the dark umbra. Usually, the inner core of the Earth’s shadow depicted as sharp-edged, but the diffuse shadow curve can begin to shade in the lower limb of the Moon on approach.
Now, the partial phase of the eclipse begins, offering visual proof that we do indeed reside on a round planet. Earth’s shadow is about three times the diameter of the Moon at the same distance. Totality sees the Moon dim, and nearby stars will become visible. The color and scale of totality is known as the Danjon Number running from 4 (bright) to 0 (dark).
Remember, you don’t need any special equipment or cloud free skies to observe a total lunar eclipse: just a good view of the Moon. Certainly, binoculars or a telescope will enhance the view… if you’re imaging the Moon, be ready to rapidly dial down your exposure settings as the Moon dims.
Also, be sure to keep a keen eye out for flashes on the lunar surface during totality from possible meteoroid impacts. A capture of just such an impact during the eclipse on January 21, 2019 sent many an astro-imager scrambling to review their images, to see if they’d nabbed it as well. This year, the 2022 Taurid Fireballs (fragments of Comet 2P/Encke) are exceptionally active and worth keeping an eye out for.
Finally, observers along a curved path from Alaska through Far Eastern Russia down through Japan and Taiwan will see a special treat, as the Moon occults (passes in front of) the planet Uranus during totality. Russia and Alaska will the occultation transpire during the partial phases of the eclipse, while Japan and Taiwan will catch the occultation during totality. This is a truly rare event: the last time the Moon occulted a planet during totality occurred on October 8, 2014 (also Uranus) and the next time it occurs isn’t until June 2, 2235 (also Uranus).
In fact, there are only 20 such events for the current millennium, and the next occultation of a naked eye planet (Saturn) by the Moon during totality isn’t until July 26, 2344 AD.
Folks in New England and the Canadian Maritimes will also want to watch for a rare event: seeing the totality eclipsed Moon and the rising Sun both briefly above the horizon… at the same time. This phenomenon is known as a selenelion, and works because the light from the Sun and Moon is heavily refracted low to the horizon, and the Earth’s shadow is larger than the Moon.
Tales of the Saros
For saros buffs, this particular eclipse is the 20th of the 72 eclipses in lunar saros series 136, which started on April 13, 1680 and runs out until June 1, 2960. This saros will produce its final total lunar eclipse on July 7, 2419.
Watching Eclipse Live
Clouded out, or simply reside in the wrong hemisphere? The good folks at the Virtual Telescope Project have got you covered, with a webcast featuring the eclipse hosted by astronomer Gianluca Masi, starting at 9:30 UT/5:30 AM EDT on the morning of November 8th.
Don’t miss Tuesday’s total lunar eclipse… it’ll be a while before we see another.
-Lead image: May 2022’s total lunar eclipse. Credit: Filipp Romanov