Saturn, Spica And A Pink Moon Partial Eclipse

The moon will be only a degree or two southeast of the star Spica tonight. Tomorrow night (April 25) the Full Pink Moon hangs below the planet Saturn. The map shows the sky facing southeast around 10 o’clock local time. Created with Stellarium

The nearly full moon passes just south of Virgo’s brightest star Spica tonight. For sky watchers across a wide swath of South America and Africa, the moon will do better than that by coming up right alongside and then blocking the star from view. When one celestial body cloaks another, it’s called an occultation.

If you live within the slinky-like path, you’ll see the moon cover or occult Spica tonight. The star will graze the  moon’s northern edge for observers along the path’s northern boundary; the moon’s southern edge along the southern boundary. Times shown are Universal Time (Greenwich TIme). Credit: U.S. Navy

Depending on where you live within the occultation path, Spica could disappear for nearly an hour or just graze the edge of the moon, ducking in and out from behind mountain peaks as the moon slowly travels eastward in its orbit.

Click HERE for a more detailed map.

Tomorrow night we’ll enjoy the Full Pink Moon, named after moss pink (a.k.a. ground phlox), an early spring flower of eastern North America. Other names for April’s full moon include Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon and Fish Moon.

Many parts of the country are seeing their first wildflowers of the season. My first was a dandelion that bravely raised its head from a crack in the asphalt in a downtown alley.

With a bit of imagination you can fancy a variety of characters in the full moon’s blotchy face. Top row: old man carrying sticks, a face. Bottom: woman’s face, rabbit, another face.

You can always find the time of moonrise for your town by clicking over to the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Complete Sun and Moon Date for One Day site. As you watch the moon over the next few nights, do you see a face, a rabbit, an old man carrying a load of sticks? Our eyes form these patterns from the moon’s lighter-toned ancient crust called the lunar highlands and the darker lava plains known as the lunar “seas”.

Visibility map of Thursday’s partial lunar eclipse. Credit: Fred Espanek / NASA

The Pink Moon will briefly assume a dimmer countenance for sky watchers in Europe, Africa and Asia when it undergoes a minor partial eclipse tomorrow night. Only 1.5% of the moon will tread into Earth’s dark inner shadow (umbra) during maximum eclipse with the entire event lasting just 27 minutes.

The moon’s path through Earth’s outer shadow (penumbra) and inner umbra during Thursday night’s eclipse. Times are Universal (Greenwich – England Time). At maximum or greatest eclipse, the top of the moon will look shaved off. Click image for more information. Credit: NASA

While lacking the drama of a deeper partial or total eclipse, it should be fun to watch especially in eastern Europe and Africa where It happens during convenient early evening hours. Keen-eyed sky gazers will notice some dimming of the moon even before it dips into the darker umbra as it first passes through the outer penumbral shadow.

The moon first touches the penumbra at 6:03 p.m. Greenwich time and umbra at 7:54. It leaves the umbra at 8:21 p.m. and the penumbra at 10:11.

The next lunar eclipse for North American will be a very minor penumbral one on May 24. That’s it until next year when the Americas and other regions of the world will be treated to a total lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014.

5 Responses

  1. caralex

    I see the patterns on the moon as a surprised ‘face’, and am always amused that it never seems to get over it! I see the Mare Imbrium and Serenitatis as the eyes, and the Mare Nubium as the round-mouthed ‘O’.

    I wonder what it sees that keeps the expression ever-fresh?!

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