ST. GEORGE — A total lunar eclipse will occur Sunday evening, and this is not one to miss – it’s both a blood moon and a supermoon: Blood moon because of its deep reddish color, and supermoon because the moon travels closest to Earth. This full moon is also called the harvest moon because of its proximity to the autumnal equinox.
St. George Astronomy Group is holding a free public viewing party for Sunday’s supermoon eclipse at Unity Park in Ivins, starting at 7:30 p.m. Details follow below.
An eclipse of the moon happens when the moon moves into the shadow of the Earth and grows dark. This can only happen during a full moon when the moon is opposite the sun in the sky. The next total lunar eclipses visible from Utah will occur on Jan. 31, 2018, and Jan. 20, 2019.
Total eclipses of super full moons are especially rare, however. According to NASA, they have only occurred five times in the 1900s – in 1910, 1928, 1946, 1964 and 1982. After Sunday, a supermoon eclipse will not happen again for another 18 years, until Oct. 8, 2033.
There will, of course, yet be total lunar eclipses. The next two that will be visible from Utah will occur on the morning of Jan. 31, 2018, and on the evening of Jan. 20, 2019.
Timeline of Sunday’s lunar eclipse
- 7:19 p.m. | Moon rises in St. George
- 7:24 p.m. | Eclipse starts
- 8:11 p.m. | Full eclipse, red moon
- 8:47 p.m. | Maximum eclipse, moon will appear red again
- 9 p.m. | Best viewing, per astronomers, when moon is deep in Earth’s shadow
- 9:23 p.m. | Total eclipse
- 10 p.m. | Saturn sets
- 10:27 p.m. | Eclipse ends, moon will become full again
The time the moon will become visible over the horizon depends on the height of hills or mountains to the east of your viewing location, the St. George Astronomy Group noted in its event announcement (details below). The group recommends you find a place with a low eastern horizon, or be prepared to wait a little while.
The eclipse is visible simultaneously from all of North America and Europe, but the farther east you are, the later the eclipse happens – due to time zone changes – and the higher the moon appears in the sky.
What to expect
With the sun and moon so low in the sky, the light should refract and turn the moon a reddish color as it rises. The moon darkens when in the Earth’s shadow, but it doesn’t disappear.
Sunlight refracted around the edge of the Earth and through the Earth’s thin atmosphere falls on the moon, the St. George Astronomy Group explained. The refracted sunlight is reddened for the same reason that sunsets are often red: Red wavelengths of light penetrate the atmosphere better than other wavelengths.
As the moon rises it will change color to the familiar white, and the partial eclipse will be deepening, moving left to right across the moon.
The total eclipse will end when the moon is at 23 degrees – about a quarter way up the sky – and a bit south of due east.
If you were on the moon at this time, you would see the Earth move in front of the sun in a total eclipse of the sun. Perhaps future astronauts will enjoy such sights from their lunar bases, the astronomy group’s release suggested.
The next eclipses of the moon that will be visible from Utah are a total eclipse on the morning of Jan. 31, 2018, and another total eclipse on the evening of Jan. 20, 2019.
St. George Astronomy Group viewing event
The St. George Astronomy Group will set up telescopes for free public viewing of the lunar eclipse at Unity Park in Ivins on 400 South, midway between 200 West and 400 West. Parking is available on 400 South and in the parking lot one block to the east.
Viewing begins at 7:30 p.m., shortly after moonrise.
For those not joining the Astronomy Group’s viewing event in Ivins, the group’s release said, merely step outside, face east and enjoy the show. Binoculars will enhance the view.
Other astronomical features
While watching the moon, the astronomy group’s release said, notice the planet Saturn very low in the southwest. Saturn is the sole planet in the evening sky and it sets at 10 p.m. Saturn is in Scorpius, whose stars stretch to the lower left of Saturn. The bright stars of the Summer Triangle — Vega, Deneb and Altair — are high overhead.
- St. George Astronomy Group website
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- Get up early or stay up late, total lunar eclipse; STGNews Videocast
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