Total Lunar Eclipse
On August 21, 2017, the much-anticipated Great American Solar Eclipse transfixed most of the nation, becoming the first total solar eclipse to traverse diagonally across the United States in 99 years, with Southwest Florida achieving 82% totality on an extraordinarily clear late summer afternoon. While many people considered that the celestial sight of a century, Mother Nature will provide another magnificent sky show beginning late Sunday night, January 20, through very early Monday morning, January 21, when our area witnesses a Total Lunar Eclipse, the last one for us until 2021.
The astronomical show actually comes with a lengthy official name – the “Super Wolf Blood Moon Full Lunar Eclipse” – “Super” because the eclipse occurs when the full moon is at perigee, meaning it is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, appearing up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than one at its furthest point, called apogee; “Wolf” because that is the monthly nickname of the January Full Moon from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, as that is when wolves that are hungry howl outside of villages, though other sources refer to it as the Old or Snow Moon; “Blood” because the full eclipse will cast the full moon in a reddish-copper hue.
A Three-Hour Tour
To witness the entire Total Lunar Eclipse, the first thing to know is you have to stay up late! Start your observations at 10:34 p.m., when the shadow of the Earth will begin to pass in front of the full moon, to block the light from the Sun that it ordinarily reflects back to earth. The moon will progressively disappear from the lower left to the upper right, until it reaches totality just a little over an hour later, at 11:41 p.m., when the Earth’s shadow will completely cover the moon’s surface, with the peak at 12:12 a.m. Totality will last for one hour and three minutes, until 12:44 a.m., when the motion of the Earth’s shadow will carry it past the moon that will gradually be re-lit by the Sun, when the Full Moon once again becomes completely visible at 1:45 a.m., making the entire celestial performance last 3 hours and 11 minutes.
Total Lunar Eclipses are rare but not uncommon, averaging slightly less than one per year, when the moon and Sun are on exact opposite sides of the Earth, blocking the sunlight that ordinarily reaches the moon, with the Earth’s shadow falling on it instead. Partial eclipses, where the Earth covers only a portion of the moon, are much more likely. The next two Total Lunar Eclipses that you can witness in our region will be on May 26, 2021, then again on May 15, 2022. Total Lunar Eclipses that coincide with perigee, making them Super Moons, are even more rare, occurring only on 28 of the remaining 87 events during the remainder of the 21st Century. Conversely, the next partial Solar Eclipse over Florida will be on April 8, 2024, then our area will not experience another one for 374 years, so you might want to put that one on your long-range calendar right now!
Unlike a Solar Eclipse, where you must use safety devices such as “eclipse glasses” or similar items to prevent significant damage to your eyes, you can safely observe the Total Lunar Eclipse unaided, just by looking up! While you can watch it from the darkest regions of Fort Myers Beach for optimal viewing, any vantage point will do as long as you have an unobstructed sightline. What is necessary, of course, are clear skies, and here our region faces a concern. The forecast for Sunday calls for a significant cold front to move through our area, with a 70% chance of rain and cloudy skies during the day, with temperatures dropping by Midnight into the low 40s with a strong north wind making it feel even colder. Current predictions, however, call for the front to pass through during the daytime hours, leaving skies mostly clear by the time the Full Lunar Eclipse begins late Sunday, so the only precautions you will hopefully need are to dress appropriately and enjoy a warm beverage.
By Gary Mooney