Driftless Dark Skies

John Heasley

We are in a good place to be wowed by the lunar eclipse coming up on May 15. This is the third in a tetrad of lunar eclipses in the spring and fall of 2021 and 2022. The lunar eclipses in May and November 2021 were wonderful to see, but you had to set an alarm for 3:30 a.m. or 1 a.m. And the next lunar eclipse coming up on Nov. 8 will be at 3:09-6:49 a.m. But this one plays out on a Sunday evening and is easy to enjoy.

Look southeast around 8:05 p.m. for the rising of the Full Flower Moon. Your shadow cast by the sun setting in the northwest around 8:15 will show you where to look. If you are on a ridgetop or place in the river valley with clear horizons, you may be able to see the sun and full moon at the same time. After sunset, watch for the pinkish “Belt of Venus” and the darker shadow of Earth in the southeast as night rises. You may notice a slight dimming of the moon as it passes through Earth’s penumbra (partial shadow) 8:31-9:28.

The partial eclipse is 9:28-10:29. That’s when the moon passes into the full shadow of the Earth. It is still low in the sky, so make sure you’ve picked a spot where trees or ridges are not blocking your view. Watch the lower left part of the moon for the first hint of darkening that will slowly cover the lunar landscape. If you have binoculars, you can use them to see even more detail.

The moon is fully eclipsed 10:29-11:54 and is a little higher in the southern sky. I love finding out how deeply it will redden. Even though it is in the shadow of the Earth, there is still enough sunlight passing through our atmosphere to dimly illuminate the “seas” and highlands and craters. I also love how so many stars emerge during a total lunar eclipse. I’ll be watching for the red supergiant Antares below the moon and to its left and how its color compares. Antares is the brightest star of Scorpius, and the eclipsed moon may appear to be in the claws of the Scorpion. The Milky Way will be rising in the southeast. It’s not visible during a full moon, but I hope to see it flowing low in the eastern sky during totality when the moonlight is dimmed.

Totality ends just before midnight when the lower left limb of the moon begins to brighten as it leaves Earth’s shadow.  There is again a partial eclipse 11:54 p.m.-12:56 a.m. and a penumbral eclipse 12:56-1:52. Hope we have clear skies to be awed by the eclipse of the Full Flower Moon!

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.