I hope we get to observe Neptune and Mars next week when they are as close to each other as one half the Moon's diameter!
Mars will be quite obvious in the south above bright Fomalhaut -Alpha Piscis Austrini (the Alpha star of the Southern Fish).
I made these finder charts with Sky Safari to help show the area of sky and then to provide enough detail to help identify Neptune.
Finding Neptune using Mars alone may not be the way to go. The relative position of Neptune to the Red Planet is changing as Mars streaks across the sky! Alternatively I suggest using 81 and 82 Aquarii as pointers. (See last chart below) Eighth magnitude Neptune is almost in a line with these two magnitude 6 stars.
On the detailed chart (below) I have identified the star HD217572 for you to use as a brightness comparison to Neptune. Both are at about magnitude 8 (give or take a decimal).
I hope the skies co-operate, and I hope these notes and the charts will help you to zeroing in on Neptune!
Comet Alert! A new comet has been discovered!
Comet C/2018 V1 (Macholtz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto -henceforth Comet M-F-I) was just discovered (Nov 7) and it gives us another opportunity to spot a comet this year (along with Wirtanen which is also brightening on schedule -last estimate magnitude 7). Below is the Sky and Telescope finder chart. C/2018 V1 passed the star Porrima in Virgo Wed am Nov 12 and it is tracking eastwards (left) over the next few weeks as it gradually approaches the Sun. It transitions into the evening sky in early December.
Comet C/2018V1 is now 8th magnitude or brighter!
Look East at the start of morning twilight towards Venus and Spica in Virgo. The comet is moving generally eastwards towards the sunrise Virgo and gets closest to the planet on Nov 18 (only 10° from Venus at magnitude -4). The moon is nowhere in the sky at this time of morning and it is worth getting up before dawn to have a look. The comet should brighten perhaps to magnitude 5 or so as it approaches the Sun but it will also become lost in the glare by month end. See the charts at the bottom of this weblog. Rounding the Sun in early December, it switches over into the evening sky and will perhaps be its brightest then. Comet M-F-I is not predicted to get as bright as Wirtanen but these objects are of course, unpredictable. Read all about the discovery here.
An image taken Nov. 11 is provided at the S&T link above and I included it below. Don’t expect it to look like this visually; this is a long exposure image. There may be a hint of green colour, however.
Here is one website (IAU Minor Planet Centre) which will give you the elements of the orbit that you can enter into a program like Starry Night to create the path for yourself. Star charts for morning viewing from Nov 22 to Nov 28 and evening viewing from Dec 2 to 10 are provided below. Click to download copies.
While there has been no lack of planetary activity to enjoy in the night sky (Venus, Jupiter and Mars!), one celestial spectacle has been missing for a long time. We have not had a bright comet for a dozen years or so and any that have shown up have required telescopes or binoculars to see. The most recent one was Comet 26P/Giacobini-Zinner and it was captured nicely on camera by Frank W. See the home page.
We are long overdue for a really bright comet and although I would like to report otherwise, the comet predicted for Christmas will be a good comet, but not likely a spectacular one. However, as one famous comet hunter, David H. Levy commented, “Comets are like cats: they have tails and do precisely what they want.”
Of all celestial objects, comets are the most elusive and most unpredictable. Astronomers know many of their orbits with high precision, but their behaviour when these chunks of frozen ice and gas get near the Sun is much less certain. Many do not brighten on schedule, some break up or get destroyed by a close pass to the Sun and others burst forth in spectacular fashion. The most famous example of a much-ballyhooed comet that flopped was Comet Kohoutek in 1973. I tried more than once to catch a glimpse of Kohoutek and failed, and my better half notes (with glee) that she spotted it casually during a snowmobile ride on a frozen lake in the Peterborough area. (That was in our pre-courting days, so it does not really count.)
As in the case of Comet Kohoutek, comets can be a complete fizzle, or they can totally defy predictions and be easily seen even from our brightly-lit cities. The last such comet was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 with a spectacular show for over a year remaining visible to the naked eye for 18 months. But who remembers Comet Hyakatake? This one appeared a year before Hale-Bopp, had a larger tail, and came closer to Earth (a close shave of only 15 million km) than the 200 million km wide pass of Hale-Bopp.
Unfortunately Hyakatake only appeared for 3 months in 1996 during typically cloudy spring weather, and you had to be dedicated to spot it. I had learned a lesson with Kohoutek, and thankfully, the weather cooperated, so I did observe and photograph it on several occasions.
This Christmas, Comet 46/P Wirtanen is expected to appear in our skies, and away from city lights (and moonlight); it may be an interesting sight. Due to be brightest during the later part of 2018 and early January 2019, predictions (for what those are worth) are that it may get to be visible to the naked eye, but don’t expect another Hale-Bopp.
Comet 46/P Wirtanen was preceded by another, a summer comet, Comet Giacobini-Zinner, and if predictions are borne out, Comet 46/P will be better than Comet G-Z and should peak late in the year. The best times to view will be during Moon-free periods in the first two weeks of December and again in the first part of January 2019. Full Moon occurs Dec 22 and Wirtanen will not likely be seen over the bright moonlight. But if you can dodge the moon by waiting for it to set, Wirtanen will be above the horizon all night long from mid-December into the new year. For a chart showing the path of 46/P from Dec 1 to Christmas Day, see below. Click on the map to download a copy. Good luck with your comet viewing!
A traditional depiction in mythology of Perseus is shown below. This is plate 6 in Urania's Mirror by Jehoshaphat Aspin, London, 1824. One of 32 hand-coloured constellation cards, the set depicts most of the familiar constellations as works of art rather than what is seen in modern atlases which strive for accuracy in star position, brightness, type, etc. and provide no fanciful artwork at all. Pity.
There are many interesting stars in Perseus but at this time of year when the ghouls are out, we pick on Algol the Demon Star. Modern astronomers have dug deep and revealed an extra-ordinary story.
The second brightest star in Perseus, Algol, has a name which translates from Arabic as “head of the ogre”, original: “ra’s al ghul”, a creature who stalked graveyards and consumed human flesh. There is also the obvious connection to our word “ghoul.” So from ancient times, Algol has been called the Demon Star.
In the myth associated with the Demon Star, innocent Andromeda is on the verge of being dismembered for being beautiful (it was her mother’s boast that got her into trouble, actually). Our hero, Perseus is returning with the severed blood-soaked head of Medusa (she had a bad hair day) and saves Andromeda from Cetus the Sea Monster by turning the monster into stone. There are (unconfirmed) reports that more than one of the Greek islands are the site of the monstrous body, -check the tourist literature.
By the end of the mythological saga, Perseus, Andromeda, her boastful mother, Queen Cassiopeia, and her father, King Cepheus become constellations in the sky. Even Cetus is there a bit further off. The classical depiction of Perseus (in the image above) shows Algol, the Demon Star, as one of Medusa’s eyes. But like only a few other stars in the heavens, Algol actually changes its light output visibly! It’s as if Algol, the Demon Eye of the Medusa, is winking at us. It is certainly a relief that she is 98.2 light years away, well beyond turning-to-stone range.
It is not definitively known if ancient myth-makers noticed Algol’s variation and built it into their stories, but by 1783, English astronomer John Goodricke showed that the variable Algol had a very regular period indeed. This unique discovery gained Goodricke the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, a prize first awarded in 1731 and still presented annually today. Algol’s precise clock-like variations occur over 2 days, 20 hours and 48.9 minutes. During that time, it fades for exactly 10 hours and then brightens back to normal. Repeat 2.86730 days later.
The variability of Algol lies in the fact that it is actually three stars and two orbit each other so that they pass directly in front of each other from our perspective. The combined light output drops during the 10 hour eclipse which gives these stars their type name: eclipsing binaries. Algol was the first variable recognized as such and is one of only a few that can be noticed by the naked eye. It’s like Medusa is continually trying to change us to stone - with a 10 hour wink! Thank goodness the “petrification energy” gets totally diluted over the vast distance.
An ordinary star chart is provided below (Credit IAU and Sky&Tel) to help you locate Algol in Perseus. It is usually easy because it spends most if its time as the second brightest star in Perseus after Mirfak. Algol is usually a magnitude 2.1 star and only drops to magnitude 3.3 every 2.86736 days for about 10 hours. So you need a schedule to tell you when the eclipse will happen during a time when Algol is in the night sky. There are four good chances in October and these are given at the end of this article.
The light curve diagram provided here for Algol shows the two dips in its brightness as each of the two stars eclipse each other. The primary eclipse occurs when the larger, cooler, dimmer Algol B partially hides the smaller, hotter, brighter, more massive Algol A. The secondary eclipse is when Algol A hides Algol B.
The times when an eclipse occurs are provided in various publications or online. Google “Algol minima” for some of those. In any case, the next good opportunities to see Algol blink at us are Oct 18 at 2:09 am when Perseus is high in the sky. Then on Oct 21, at 22:58 EDT (about 11 pm) with Perseus still high in the east, and Oct 23 with an eclipse starting at 19:47 EDT (7:47 pm Perseus above NE horizon). The last opportunity in October is Oct 26 with an eclipse starting at 4:36 pm EDT. By mid-eclipse Perseus should be high enough above the NE horizon for Algol to be seen. You can watch the star come back out of eclipse in the wee hours of the morning, around 2:30 am or so.
In October, we are officially into fall but the night sky is still in summer mode. The two summer astronomical objects on prominent display are the summer Milky Way and the Summer Triangle, and it will be well into winter before both disappear below the western horizon. So let’s say a proper goodbye to the summertime night sky.
For the next few months, when clouds part long enough at night for you to see anything, the Milky Way stands vertically over the SW horizon and stretches overhead and behind you. At a dark sky location, you can follow the glow of our home galaxy right to the northeastern horizon. Star charts are available on the BAS website www.bluewaterastronomy.com and also at www.skymaps.com. An all-sky chart is included here. Start by looking southwards and locate the most obvious patch of Milky Way just above the southwestern horizon. The constellation there is Sagittarius, looking like a teapot tipped somewhat to the right. Say a hello in passing to Saturn just off the lid of the teapot. Now follow the Milky Way glow up to Aquila and overhead to Cygnus. Then turn around, face north and continue down past Cassiopeia to Perseus low above the northeastern horizon. At a dark site you should be able to trace the glow of the millions of stars that make up the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. The glow is more obvious in Sagittarius because you are looking itoward the centre of the galaxy where more stars are concentrated. In the opposite direction, looking past Perseus, you are gazing out into the less starry regions beyond the edge of our home in the universe.
It will be several months before this asterism disappears completely and even at year's end, Deneb will still be visible before midnight above the NW horizon. In December, of course, no one will be thinking about summer and the only “Milky Way” will probably be steam rising from mugs of hot chocolate as hardy stargazers check out our winter constellations.
As for other sky objects, there are only two bright planets left in the night sky, Mars and Saturn. Venus is lost in solar glare low in the west and Jupiter is close behind. Both drop quickly into the western sunset glow and by 9 pm, the time of the included chart, both have disappeared. The remaining planets, Saturn and Mars, are not labelled on the chart but they are not hard to find, -both are bright enough to be the first “stars” you see at night.
Let’s hope for a few nice, not too frosty, autumn nights to catch the last of the offerings of the summer sky. And if it is too cloudy, do some armchair astronomy by reading my weblog on the BAS website.
Recent reports (July 27) indicate that the worst is over for the Martian dust storm and the dust seems to be subsiding. We are not out of the woods yet, however, as it can take several months for the atmosphere to clear to pre-storm levels. The worst possible scenario is for another storm to start up, as it is dust storm season in the southern hemisphere on Mars. Hopefully, the atmosphere will clear up and viewing of surface features will get back to “normal” very soon, perhaps by the end of August. The article quoted here from www.space.com gives the current status of the dust storm and its effect on ground resources like Opportunity, for example. Also make sure you have a look at the link in the Damian Peach image above which shows the before and after views of Mars.
Martian Dust Storm is Starting to Die Down from www.space.com - July 27, 2018
The dust is finally beginning to clear on Mars, but it'll probably still be a while before NASA's sidelined Opportunity rover can phone home.
A global dust storm has enshrouded Mars for more than a month, plunging the planet's surface into perpetual darkness. That's complicated life significantly for the solar-powered Opportunity, which has apparently put itself into a sort of hibernation; the rover hasn't contacted its controllers since June 10.
A long-awaited dawn seems to be on the horizon, however. [Mars Dust Storm 2018: How It Grew & What It Means for the Opportunity Rover]
"It's the beginning of the end for the planet-encircling dust storm on Mars," NASA officials wrote in an Opportunity mission update yesterday (July 26).
Scientists studying the storm "say that, as of Monday, July 23, more dust is falling out than is being raised into the planet's thin air," agency officials added. "That means the event has reached its decay phase, when dust-raising occurs in ever smaller areas, while others stop raising dust altogether.”
Other data points support this conclusion. For example, measurements by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that temperatures in the middle atmosphere have stopped rising, indicating less absorption of solar heat by dust particles.
In addition, NASA's Curiosity rover — which is nuclear-powered and can therefore work through the storm — has observed a decline in overhead dust at its location, the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater, agency officials said.
Some Martian landforms previously hidden beneath the dust can now be spotted from orbit again, they added, and may even be visible using Earth-based telescopes by early next week, when Mars will make its closest approach to our planet since 2003.
But don't hold your breath waiting to hear from Opportunity, which has been exploring Mars since 2004. According to yesterday's mission update, "it could still be weeks, or even months, before skies are clear enough" for Opportunity to recharge its batteries and ping its handlers.
The storm is a serious threat to the six-wheeled robot, but mission team members have expressed cautious optimism that Opportunity will survive. Their calculations suggest that temperatures at Opportunity's location — the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 km) Endeavour Crater — won't get cold enough to freeze the rover to death.
That fate befell Opportunity's twin, Spirit, after it got bogged down in sand in 2010 and couldn't reorient itself to catch the sun.
Originally published on Space.com.
Mars in 2018 - closest since record close approach of 2003
The close approach of Mars to Earth in 2003 is being repeated this year. The orbit of Mars is an ellipse and only every 15 to 17 years or so do the distances line up so that we get a better than average separation from the Red Planet . From 2018 onwards, oppositions of Mars gradually get farther and farther (until Sep 2035) so this year is the time to get out and pay some serious attention to the planet.
One or two viewing occasions are not going to do it, however. The planet is not as high in the sky as it has been at other oppositions so our atmosphere will play a significant role in your not seeing Mars at its best. You need to be persistent and get out often as you pursue Mars. You need a combination of dark, clear skies, good seeing and maximum altitude above the horizon to be rewarded with better than average views.
The map/diagram below from Sky&Telescope shows the main features of the planet. But there are other sources of detailed information as well. Mars viewing guides can be found here: SkyNews Mars Guide and here from Cosmic Pursuits: Cosmic Pursuits Mars Guide as well as here: Sky&Telescope Mars viewing. Sky&Telescope also has an app called Mars Profiler that shows which face of Mars is visible at your observing time.
On the down side, a big dust storm started up in mid-May and continues to shroud the entire planet. Features of the surface have been pretty much obliterated and will remain so until the dust settles. Details of the storm’s development can be found here (Martian dust storm) and here (Dust storm update), but a quick synopsis follows.
The storm started in the opposite (northern) hemisphere from where they normally occur and then expanded into southern regions so by June 19, the entire planet was shrouded. NASA’s Rover Opportunity which went into a hunkered-down mode has not been heard from since June 10.
Amateur observers have been chewing their nails waiting for a break in the storm but the only things noticeable are an overall fifth of a magnitude increase in brightness and a subtle change in the colour of the planet from its usual reddish-orange (or pink) to a pumpkin orange hue. Few telescopic observers have noticed even a polar cap glowing feebly through the haze.
Scott Guzewich, atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, struck a note of optimism, writing in a July 5th blog that "the amount of dust over Gale Crater has been slowly declining over the last two weeks, and it’s possible the dust storm has reached its ‘peak”’. Once storms like this peak, it still takes several months for the atmosphere to clear to pre-storm transparency. This puts us into late August/September before things settle down. By that time, Mars will be well past its July 27 opposition. All is not lost however, since in late August, Mars crosses the meridian (its highest point above the southern horizon) around 11 pm and in late September that occurs around 9:30 pm. So if anything, Mars viewing will still be going on into the fall. The down side is that it shrinks from its 24 arc-second diameter on July 27 to 16 arc-seconds in late September.
The chart below shows Mars features as they will (eventually) be visible. Keep your fingers, toes etc, crossed for a quick clearing of the dust!
A new type of auroral feature has been identified and it goes by the initials “S.T.E.V.E” standing for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. It has likely been around for a long time but only drew professional astronomers’ interest in July 2016. As it turned out I caught it on camera 4 years before that and 5 years before its nature was sorted out by satellite measurements in 2017.
Two years ago, a group of aurora photographers out west named the Alberta Aurora Chasers (avid imagers from all walks of life) came to the attention of a University of Calgary auroral scientist, Prof. Eric Donovan. The Aurora Chasers had been photographing aurora for years and occasionally imaged an unusual ray of purplish light that sometimes appeared along with normal aurora. It often showed up with multiple green “fingers” dubbed a “picket fence” nearby. The AAC member who showed such an image to Prof. Donovan thought he had captured a proton arc, but these features are sub-visual as the professor pointed out. Donovan had no idea what it was but he was intrigued and gave it the name “Steve” a whimsical label signifying something unknown (from an animated film where some animals name a forbidding hedge “Steve” to make it less ominous). Only later was the phenomena given the “backronym” STEVE as mentioned in the first paragraph.
Prof Donovan was able to get measurements of the gases in STEVE and detected a large increase in temperature and a westward velocity of the materials (the “T” and the “V” in STEVE’s official name). Undoubtedly, STEVE had been observed in the past but scientists did not have the all-sky cameras on the ground or satellites in orbit that could take Steve’s temperature and other vital signs. Neither had the community of amateur scientists (citizen scientists as they are now called) alerted professionals that there was something new in the heavens that needed explanation. Equally as important was the fact that cameras sensitive enough to easily photograph the faintest phenomena in the night sky had come into the hands of ordinary folks. A lot of them were trying them out taking pictures of star trails, the Milky Way, and also northern lights. A lot of factors came together, and as a result, STEVE’s time had come.
After I heard about STEVE, I went back and searched my own photo archives and found some images of what I called a “strange aurora” that appeared on Apr 25, 2012. Turns out it was STEVE! I was at the Fox Observatory and just closing up at 11:18 pm when I noticed this strange light in the sky. Thanks goodness I had my camera with me and before the display ended around midnight, I had taken about 5 dozen images. The image included here was made at 11:38 pm and showed the narrow purplish ray as well as the green picket fence feature that are characteristics of STEVE. That aurora was the second one in two weeks that I imaged from the ES Fox Observatory and there was no sign of STEVE on the previous occasion.
One of about 5 dozen images of an aurora that developed rather quickly on April 25 around 11:15 pm. It lasted less than an hour but during that time STEVE appeared in about half of the images. The narrow feature in purple above is the Strong Thermal Emission and Velocity Enhancement that gives STEVE its name.
The green “picket fence” features also accompany this new aurora type but may be a separate phenomena. There appear to be two rays, a prominent one near the horizon at centre and a fainter one that runs along the left edges of the pickets in centre giving an overall appearance of a large bird’s wing. A four-day old crescent Moon is just setting in the west behind the cloud bank and Procyon is the brightest star just above the horizon to the left of the clouds. STEVE is in front of Gemini with Castor and Pollux behind the some of the pickets just to the right of STEVE. The faint line crossing STEVE left to right is a contrail. See if you can pick out Leo (head down) just below the left centre of the image. Don’t let Mars throw you off since it was 5° to the east of Regulus on this date in 2012. Venus was also visible 13° to the right of the Moon but it has set in this image.
Further research is being done by Donovan’s aurora group. Interestingly enough, it turns out that although STEVE looks like an auroral ray, it is not actually an aurora per se. This also brings into question whether the picket fence features are not aurora as well, but that is still to be determined.
The story is told by the professor himself in this TED talk. Have a look.
Next to the Big Bang that started the whole shebang, the most energetic event in the universe is a stellar explosion called a supernova. The most colossal of the several types of supernovas involve giant stars, so the explosion (a Type II supernova) is even more awesome than it might be otherwise. The amount of energy released is totally unimaginable - in a month or so the equivalent of all the energy released during the entire lifetime of our Sun! It is just another way that the Universe can kill us. (Spoiler alert: we are far enough away from any star that could go boom and our Sun is a pretty ordinary star not prone to explode.)
When a really massive star goes supernova, for a time it can outshine its entire home galaxy of several billion stars and be seen from billions of light years away. Astronomers detect over a hundred supernova per year on average from the billions of galaxies that exist outside our own Milky Way. Within our home galaxy, we see only one or two per century but there would be some hidden on the other side of the dusty central area, so there is no way to give an accurate estimate - one every 50 years is a lower limit.
Planets orbiting these exploding stars and even objects within about 50 light years of the supernova can be “affected” (meaning destroyed) by the explosion. The intense shock wave and extremely energetic pulse of X-rays can disrupt neighbouring stars and strip off the atmospheres of planets around them or just plainly vaporize them if they are too close. Luckily for us there are no supernova candidate stars close enough to our solar system, so death by supernova is less likely than death by comet or asteroid and even those odds are smaller than death by car accident. There is very good evidence that dinosaurs and many other species on Earth were snuffed out by a comet about 65 million years ago, so these are the time scales we are talking about, long by human lifetime standards, but pretty short in the 13.5 billion year lifetime of our universe.
Thankfully, there are no pre-supernova stars within the 50 light-year distance from Earth, but go farther afield, about 10 times farther and we find one very likely candidate for a spectacular explosion, the star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. It may happen a million years from now or perhaps tomorrow, astronomers have statistics, but no specific dates. But they are pretty certain that it will go off before a million years go by.
The star Betelgeuse (pronounced “beetle juice” ) is easy to find in the evening sky in February and later in the spring as well. Orion, the Hunter, as a constellation is recognizable by his Belt, a line of three evenly spaced, equally bright stars in the centre of a rectangle of similarly bright stars. Betelgeuse is the one in the upper left corner and has a slightly reddish tinge associated with its red giant status. Compare it to the star Rigel at the lower right corner which is a little whiter, even a bit blue. The diagrams below from Sky Safari 5 show Orion as it would appear above the southeastern horizon at 7 pm EST presently and then at some point in the future with SN Betelgeuse.
Should Betelgeuse explode “tomorrow” keep in mind that the event actually happened over 400 years ago (the current best guess for distance to Betelgeuse is 430 light years) since the light from the supernova would have had to travel from the star to us. Rest assured that we are at a safe distance regardless.
Still, it would be a pretty spectacular sight! Betelgeuse the supernova, shining at its peak would, for several weeks or even months, be the brightest object in the night sky - perhaps as bright as the full Moon, and visible even in the daytime. Astronomers, both professional and amateur are especially excited about a Betelgeuse supernova since we would have a ring-side seat at the most spectacular phenomenon in the universe! Thank goodness we are far enough away to safely watch the show!
Most of Ontario and much of eastern Canada saw no lunar eclipse Jan 31 due to poor weather. However, NASA TV did broadcast the eclipse from 4 sites, and only one, the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii was clouded out. Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB as well as the Mt Lemmon Observatory north of Tucson AZ had clear conditions. NASA was able to supply high quality images from start to finish as the Moon set in the west around 7 am MST. Even in the most western locations in North America (except Alaska), the Moon set just after or a bit before the last bit of umbra had departed the face of the Moon.
The full Moon was visible through thin, quickly moving clouds for a time after moonrise in Owen Sound and climbed above the escarpment to the east of my location.
But even then the clouds hid the moon for 20% of the time and by 9 pm, there was significant cloud cover. When I rose at 5:45 am to check the skies, there was a barely perceptible disk of moonlight and by 6 am, it was snowing in Owen Sound and the Moon was invisible. NASA TV to the rescue!
Images below from NASA TV were broadcast live and viewers got to see it from different locations (Griffith Observatory and Armstrong Flight Research Center near Los Angeles, Mt. Lemmon Observatory (N. of Tucson AZ) and the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii. The latter location was clouded out. Here is a sampling of images.
Griffith Observatory has put together a time-lapse video here.
At the risk of adding to the “super Moon” hype, allow me to point out that both full Moons in January are “super”. The Jan 1 full Moon is more super than the full Moon at month-end by a mere 2429 km, but the full Moon on Jan 31 is also a so-called “blue” Moon. Adding to the hype, the Moon is supposed to turn “blood red” during a lunar eclipse that morning. So on Jan 31, we are due for a Super, Blue, Blood Red Moon! Sheesh.
The “blood red” label appears to be a relatively recent development, a result of two prophets of doom that thought four lunar eclipses in a row (ending with the Sep 27, 2015 eclipse) meant something special. It did not. The apocalypse did not happen in 2015, just like the other 20 times doomsday was predicted since Jan 1, 2000. By the way, there are three dates (so far) on which the world will end in 2018. I would watch out for the doomsday of May 20, a date supposedly guaranteed in the Bible (or your money back).
The Earth’s shadow in space has two parts, a dark circular core called the umbra, which is about 3 times the diameter of the Moon, and an invisible outer shadow called the penumbra which is even larger. It is only the umbra that we see progressing across the Moon during an eclipse, making it appear to go through its monthly cycle of phases in a just a few hours. See our website www.bluewaterastronomy.com for a neat graphic depicting this.
Moon colour during lunar eclipses is caused by our atmosphere filtering out blue light the same way it does whenever the Moon or Sun are near the horizon. For any of the lunar eclipses I have seen, “blood red” would not be a colour description I would have used. I have seen “reddish-brown”, “orange”, “yellowish-orange”, and even “gray” the one time that volcanic ash in our atmosphere filtered out all the colour from the light getting to the Moon. That time, the eclipsed Moon was invisible to the naked eye and only just detectable in binoculars, appearing like a black hole among the stars. Furthermore, the central part of Earth’s shadow is darker so the Moon’s colour changes as the eclipse progresses. Colour-wise, no two lunar eclipses are ever exactly the same and hardly ever do we see “cherry” or “blood red” colours, - except after some Photoshop “enhancement” also known as “astro-fake-it-ography”.
The total lunar eclipse just before sunrise on Jan 31, 2018 will be visible all over the western hemisphere more or less. For us here in Bruce and Grey county, it will be less than more. Folks in the Prairie provinces get more, and those farther west in Calgary or Kelowna, for example, will see the entire event.
The hour-long passage of the full Moon through Earth’s shadow is the most interesting part of a lunar eclipse, but unfortunately this time, all of eastern Canada misses it. Locally, the Moon sets below our western horizon 10 minutes before totality begins and we will see only a bright “crescent” Moon with a bit of redness to the darkened portion like the image provided here of the Sep 27, 2015 lunar eclipse. Seeing conditions will have to be perfect to see anything like this and the Moon will be dimmed because sunrise is at the same time as moonset.
For Bruce-Grey, the first umbral contact occurs at 6:48 am EST with the full Moon only 8 degrees above the western horizon (about the width of your out-stretched hand). A darkening at upper left should be noticeable by 6:45 am or so and it will progress across the Moon until the Moon sets at 7:44 am EST below our western horizon. For those in the Pacific Time Zone, totality starts at 4:52 am PST (7:52 EST), and lasts for 76 minutes until 6:08 PST. The eclipse ends when the last bit of the full Moon reappears by 7:11 am PST. You need to be west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to see all of totality before the Moon sets.
The Bluewater Astronomical Society will make the best of the event locally with telescopes at a location with a good view to the western horizon. We will be scouting locations along the Lake Huron shore where snowbanks are manageable. Assuming weather co-operates, check outwww.bluewaterastronomy.com as the time approaches for last-minute confirmation of viewing site. Fingers crossed for clear skies!