Driftless Dark Skies

John Heasley

Night owls can be awed by a lunar eclipse on Nov. 19. That’s the one where the Full Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth and turns a rusty color. The Full Frost (or Beaver) Moon rises on Thursday the 18th around 4:20 p.m. as the sun is setting and passes high across the southern sky. You may start to notice a slight darkening of the moon after midnight as it passes through Earth’s penumbra. The partial eclipse begins at 1:18 a.m. as the top of the moon enters Earth’s umbral shadow. By then, the moon will be high in the southwest. The shadow of the Earth slowly engulfs the moon, and the color will darken and deepen until maximum eclipse at 3:03 a.m. This will be an almost full (97 percent) eclipse with only a small tip of the moon on the bottom left out of the shadow. Then the drama reverses as the moon slowly departs Earth’s shadow and the partial eclipse ends at 4:47 a.m. Moonset will be around 7:15 a.m. You can enjoy an encore of the Full Frost Moon uneclipsed that evening when it rises in the northeast around 4:45 p.m.

There is much to enjoy about a lunar eclipse. I love the unpredictability of the colors. Even though the moon is in the shadow of the Earth, some light still passes through our atmosphere to light its surface. Depending on how much smoke is in our atmosphere, the color may be orange or copper or rust or brick or umber. I love the predictability of the sky darkening. Usually we see fewer stars with the light of the Full Moon, but during a lunar eclipse the sky slowly darkens and more stars emerge as the moonlight is dimmed by 99.9 percent. Look for the Pleiades “The Seven Sisters” just a few fingers above the moon. A looser cluster of stars, the Hyades, will be about a fist to the left of the moon. The bright orange star Aldebaran is at the upper left tip of their V-pattern. Use binoculars to see even better and to bring out the colors. The familiar constellation of Orion the Hunter will be high in the south surrounded by the bright stars of the “Winter Hexagon.”

If you’re not a night owl, there are two more lunar eclipses coming up in 2022 that might be a better match. There is an evening eclipse on May 15 9:27 p.m.-12:55 a.m. And a morning eclipse on Nov. 8 3:09-6:49 a.m. After that, we wait until 2025 and 2026 to be awed again by a lunar eclipse.

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the IAU as a Dark Skies Ambassador, and with International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate. For more information about stargazing in southwestern Wisconsin, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.