Reserve a seat now to watch the premier celestial show on February 10th, 2017. This Friday night, a three act performance will begin around 5:34pm EST with the best viewing at 7:44pm.
The show will kick off with a penumbral lunar eclipse, followed by the fiery antics of Comet 45P (aka Honda-Mrkos-Padusakova). After a sigh of relief, we will gasp again as the Snow Moon rises in its somewhat dimmer glory, unable to shake the overshadowing effect of the first act.
Act I: Moon Dancing in the Shadows: The Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
Talk about dimming your light. When the Earth passes between the moon and sun, it casts a shadow. A big shadow. A shadow so big that it has two parts: a penumbra, which is a somewhat fainter more diffuse shadow; and the umbra, which is the darkest part of the shadow. A ‘new moon’ is similar to a penumbral lunar eclipse, only the moon passes through the umbra of Earth’s shadow, appearing as a dark, ghostly apparition in the night sky instead of its usual glowing self.
Act II: Comet 45P: Bad Aim Spares Us All
What’s green and 10OMG faster than a speeding bullet? Comet 45P, that’s what. Its sights are a little off, though. Both the Earth and the Moon will be spared when it blasts by at a face-melting 51,000mph (82,076km/hr).By comparison, a bullet pokes along at a veritable snail’s pace, clocking only 1,022mph (1,645km/hr).
If you plan to wave it through, you’ll have to stay up late. It won’t blast by with its closest pass until about 3am EST on Saturday, February 11th. You may want to duck while you’re waving, though–it will be only 0.08 Astronomical Units (7.7 million miles) away when it makes its closest pass.
For the early-to-bed and early-to-rise types, you can still get your green on. In fact, you can see this celestial version of the Green Lantern now, if you have a telescope, good camera, or binoculars. It’s just too faint for the naked human eye.
Act III: Snow Moon Rising
February’s full moon was given the moniker Snow Moon by Native Americans during Colonial times. The moon got its name because February is the month when the most snowfall occurs. This made hunting difficult, with some Native American tribes dubbing it the Hunger Moon and even the Bone Moon.
Such stark names for a brilliant moon. Then again, it would be difficult to trudge through knee-deep snow for a shot at a deer that can cover 30 feet in one leap. Might be best to stick with that venison from last fall. It probably won’t help to note that National Weather Service data backs this up; on average, February is the USA’s snowiest month.
What’s so great about this coming Friday and early Saturday morning is that you can watch one, two, or all three acts. Hopefully, the weather will help us out with clear skies and something north of sub-freezing temperatures.