Supermoon lunar eclipse Sunday night


Fred Espenak

Watch the moon turn red during the total lunar eclipse Sunday, Jan. 20, around 10 p.m.

The full moon on Jan. 20 is not only a supermoon, but also brings with it a total lunar eclipse.

A supermoon is a full moon that coincides with perigee, the moon’s nearest point to Earth in its monthly orbit. The full moon on Feb. 19 is also a supermoon and the closest for 2019. While supermoons don’t appear much larger than a regular full moon, they are about 14% brighter and ocean tides are higher than usual.

The full moon on Jan. 20 coincides with the first lunar eclipse of the year. It’s a total lunar eclipse, which only occurs when the sun, Earth and moon are perfectly aligned; anything else results in a partial eclipse or no eclipse at all. This will be the last total lunar eclipse until May 2021 so hope for clear skies to watch the full moon take on a reddish-orange hue.

The eclipse event lasts about three hours, and officially begins at 9:34 p.m., when only a slight darkening of the moon is perceptible as it just starts to pass through Earth’s shadow. Totality will begin at 10:41 p.m. and end at 11:43 p.m. The greatest eclipse occurs 11:12 p.m.

A lunar eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye. It happens as the Earth’s shadow slowly crosses the moon. The first “touch” is called the penumbral shadow and barely noticeable. Next is the umbral shadow, when Earth’s full shadow covers the moon; the moon is fully visible but turns a deep red-brown-orange color due to sunlight being refracted as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere. The moon then exits an eclipse after it goes through the penumbral shadow again. The color of the moon depends on the amount of dust in the atmosphere; the more dust the darker red the moon appears.

Bright morning planets Look to the southeast before dawn to spot bright Jupiter and brilliant Venus in a close dance in the sky. To their right is the bright star Antares, the heart of Scorpius. Between Jan. 20-23, Venus is just above Jupiter, but the pair is above even Jan. 24-26. These planets will be in their closest conjunction on Jan. 22. Watch as each morning Venus slips down in the morning sky while Jupiter climbs higher. Jupiter is currently nearly 7.5 times farther from Earth than is Venus, which accounts in part for Venus appearing so much brighter. Happy viewing.