Total lunar eclipse? Uh, not this time.

This map shows where the May 26, 2021 lunar eclipse is visible. Contours mark the edge of the region where the eclipse will be visible at the times when the Moon enters or leaves the umbra (the part of the Earth’s shadow where the Sun is completely hidden) and penumbra (the part where the Sun is only partially blocked). Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

They say timing is everything and, with eclipses, that is certainly true. Unfortunately, timing will not be in our favor for viewing the Wednesday, May 26 total lunar eclipse. Earth’s Moon will be dipping very close to the horizon as morning twilight brightens hiding the most colorful portion of the event — totality — when Moon turns shades of copper and red. The subtle penumbral eclipse as Moon enters Earth’s outer shadow and will likely be even harder to see than usual. The partial phase of the eclipse begins as Moon enters the dark inner portion of the shadow cone and is easily spotted under other circumstances. Even the partial eclipse begins so late with Moon so close to the horizon that only a lucky few Ohioans will see any part of it.

Penumbral Eclipse beginsMay 26 at 4:47 a.m.
Partial Eclipse beginsMay 26 at 5:45 a.m.
Total Eclipse beginsMay 26 at 7:11 a.m.
Maximum EclipseMay 26 at 7:18 a.m.
Eclipse Timings — Eastern Daylight Time — Northeastern Ohio

The good news? Lunar eclipses can occur only at the time of a Full Moon and this event features a perigee Moon — our natural satellite at a particularly low portion of its orbit around Earth — appearing just a bit bigger and brighter than average. “Low”, in this case means 221,880 miles out. So, if skies allow, get out and enjoy the big, brilliant Full Moon tonight — it’s a natural wonder in its own right.

Visibility of the total phase in the contiguous U.S., at 11:11 UTC. Totality can be seen everywhere in the Pacific and Mountain time zones, along with Texas, Oklahoma, western Kansas, Hawaii and Alaska.

Still want to watch the eclipse, even though we can’t see it from here? Just do an online search for live eclipse viewing opportunities or tune in to your favorite morning TV news show; they’ll be broadcasting from the West Coast or Hawaii where the eclipse can be properly seen!

Don’t despair, dear moonwatcher! Come this November 19, in the wee hours of the morning, we will be in an excellent position to see a nearly total lunar eclipse from our own backyards! More on that at a later time!

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!