Penumbral lunar eclipse coming November 30

There will be a lunar eclipse the morning of November 30, 2020 but you may not want to get out of a warm bed to view it — it will be fairly “weak.” This month’s eclipse, viewable in its entirely from Northern Ohio (given clear skies) is of the penumbral variety and will not display the eerie colors that make total lunar eclipses so exciting.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. NASA Solar and Earth images, illustration by James Guilford.
A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the thin outer shadow — penumbra — Earth casts out into space.

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Full Moon passes through the shady outer circle — the penumbra — of Earth’s shadow streaming out into space. Careful observers will note how most of Moon dims slightly with a sliver of a brighter southern edge and a darker northern area. During a total lunar eclipse, the Full Moon passes fully through the darkest portion of Earth’s shadow, the umbra, and is illuminated by the colors of the globe’s sunrises and sunsets. Again, that won’t happen this time.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse – November 30, 2020. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA’s GSFC eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

Most of Monday’s event is quite subtle and takes a long time, many won’t even notice the difference. If you want to see this eclipse at its best, even photogenic, view it only around maximum. The penumbral eclipse begins [P1] at 2:32 AM, reaches its Greatest eclipse (you may note northern darkening) at 4:52 AM, and the event ends [P4] at 6:53 AM when Moon completes its emergence from Earth’s shade.

The next total lunar eclipse — the type that features coppery-red colors at its peak — will take place May 26, 2021; unfortunately, that event will reach its maximum as Moon sets locally. The next total lunar eclipse that we might see in its entirety will take place May 16, 2022 and that should be a doozie!

Tonight’s Moon deserves a look

Photo: Nearly Full Perigee (aka "supermoon")  - November 13, 2016, 5:52 PM. Photo by James Guilford.
Shortly After Rising: Nearly Full Perigee (aka “supermoon”) Moon – November 13, 2016, 5:52 PM

We’ve said it before, usually too much is made of so-called “supermoon” occasions; they happen with fair regularity and have little astronomical significance, and an astrologer invented the term.

Supermoons are also known as perigee Full Moons — times when Earth’s Moon reaches its full phase and the low point in its orbit (closest to Earth) at the same time. Our Moon is on an elliptical orbit that carries it nearer and farther from Earth, the distance constantly changing as it travels along its path. Perigee Full Moons, because they are somewhat closer to Earth, mean the Moon looks bigger, brighter, and will have an increased influence on ocean tides.

Tonight’s Full Moon, however, may just deserve the supermoon moniker: it will be the closest Full Moon since 1948, floating 221,524 miles (356,509 km) away. We won’t have another perigee Full Moon so close until 2034.

Technically, the Moon reaches perigee (low point in an orbit) tomorrow morning. According to an article from NASA, “The biggest and brightest Moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).” The farthest our Moon traveled from us this year was to an apogee (high point of orbit) of 252,688 miles on October 31.

Tonight’s Moon will be brilliant, as it is every time it reaches Full, but many folks won’t really notice the 14 percent larger appearance and 30 percent difference in brightness. Still, the interest is good and our amazing and beautiful nearest neighbor in space deserves the appreciation!