Who knew shadows could be so cool? Especially one half-flooded with sunlight! Hopefully you got to see at least part of yesterday’s penumbral lunar eclipse. Seeing any full moon rise is a pleasure, but this one had the added benefit of Earth’s shadow. The shading was subtle at first but became increasingly obvious as the moon approached maximum eclipse around 6:45 p.m. CST. Around that time, it looked as if someone has taken an eraser and tried to rub out the moon’s edge.
For whatever reason, the shadow was even easier to see at low power in a small telescope. Distinctly gray in color, it slid across the moon’s northern hemisphere, covering one of my favorite craters, Plato, and sucking the brilliance from the otherwise glaring Apennines Mountain range. We set up our telescopes along Lake Superior and shared views of the fabulous orb with anyone who cared to come by. Lots of folks were able to get pictures of the moon by holding their smart phones up to the telescope eyepiece.
All went smoothly until just after maximum eclipse, when a blanket of tendrily clouds swept in from the north and closed the show. When it comes to astronomical events, weather’s always a factor. Half an eclipse felt plenty satisfying.
The moon moves on in its orbit and will line up with Jupiter and Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, in conjunction on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Night actually. Watch for the threesome to show low in the southeastern sky just before midnight. Nice to see Jupiter back in the evening sky and just in time.
After providing a steady, reliable light in the western sky for months, lovely Venus will soon begin its exit of the evening sky. We won’t notice this for a couple of weeks yet, but as March opens, the shiny planet takes the down escalator in the sun’s direction, losing altitude every night. It will be in conjunction with the sun on March 25 and transition thereafter into the morning sky.
Since we touched on Jupiter, I wanted to share one of the best photos so far taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft in orbit around the giant planet. The swirly, curly details of storm cells near the planet’s south pole are just amazing to see. This is probably the finest view yet of one of Jupiter’s poles from the Juno mission.