Tonight’s waxing gibbous moon will pass south of Saturn on its way to Friday’s Full Flower Moon. Consider it a prelude to an upcoming stellar cover-up and a curious lunar eclipse.
May is the time of year when the moon takes a noticeably southward path across the sky; this month’s full moon hangs low compared to the high moons of winter. That’s because the full moon is always opposite the sun in the sky. When the sun is higher up – as it is in the early summer months – the moon occupies the lower regions of the sky where the sun spends the winter.
Two interesting celestial events happen Friday night. First, the moon will occult or cover up the bright star Beta in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. This star lies directly above Antares and isn’t visible on the wide map. The tighter view shows just how close it will be to the moon for much of the Americas and Canada during early evening hours. Friday. In fact, observers south of a line from Thunder Bay, Ontario to New York City will see the moon occult the star at or shortly after moonrise. To find out if you’re in the occultation zone, check this map.
Beta Scorpii is a very pretty double star for small telescopes. If you have a scope, see how close you can follow the star until it disappears behind the edge of the moving moon.
Western hemisphere sky watchers might (or might not) see a penumbral lunar eclipse that begins an hour or two after Friday’s occultation. Penumbral eclipses occur when the moon passes through Earth’s outer shadow called the penumbra; they’re nowhere near as dramatic as when it moves through the much darker, inner umbral shadow.
This eclipse will be particularly wimpy with the moon barely dipping its toes in the pool. At maximum, only 1.6% of the moon will be covered by the lightest portion of shadow. I doubt anyone will notice, but why not give it a try anyway? You never know, right? Viewing times are below. It will also be visible in western Europe and Africa. Please note the event lasts only 33 minutes!
* Start of eclipse – 10:53 p.m. Central time
* Maximum eclipse – 11:10 p.m.
* End of eclipse – 11:27 p.m.
Lots of fun in store for the weekend. Tomorrow we’ll look at the gang of planets assembling in the western sky after sunset.