A very special lunar eclipse — called a “penumbral” lunar eclipse — will grace the skies Wednesday, part of a series of lunar eclipses that has been documented for centuries, the science journal Physics is reporting.
Beginning Wednesday morning (in North America, later elsewhere in the world), the Moon will enter the Earth’s shadow, casting a slight shadow on the moon. This eclipse, the first of two lunar eclipses set to occur in 2016, will be a slight one, for reasons that will be explained later in this post. In fact, the “ghostly shading” cast on the moon may be unnoticeable to those who aren’t specifically looking for it.
Wednesday’s lunar eclipse is what’s known as a “penumbral” lunar eclipse. That means that the Moon, rather than passing through the heart of the Earth’s shadow, passes through the outer edges of the shadow, or “umbra.”
The lunar eclipse will begin at 9:39 Universal Time (UT) — that is, 5:39 A.M. Eastern Time. It will reach its peak at 11:48 UT, and end at 13:55.
— Brad Maushart WJTV (@BradWJTV) March 22, 2016
That means that if you’re in Asia, the lunar eclipse will begin as the Moon begins to rise Wednesday night. If you’re in North America, you’ll see the eclipse as the Moon begins to set early Wednesday morning.
If you happen to live in southeast Asia, you’ll get an extra-special astronomical treat during this particular eclipse: the Moon will occlude — that is, pass over — the star Eta Virginis.
As noted, this particular lunar eclipse will be mild, as these things go, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be something to see. Universe Today writer David Dickinson explains in Physics.
“So, what is there to see during a penumbral eclipse? Well, you might just notice a slight tea-colored shading on the lower southern limb of the moon right around greatest eclipse. Make the judgment call: would you notice a penumbral eclipse at all if you didn’t know one was underway? The higher in the sky the moon is, the better, as a low elevation moon tends to become tinted via atmospheric refraction.”
In fact, 2016 is going to be a disappointing year for lunar eclipses. The next lunar eclipse, which will occur on September 16, is also going to be a penumbral eclipse. The next total lunar eclipse — where the Moon is completely bathed in the Earth’s shadow — will take place on January 31, 2018, and will be visible across Asia and western North America.
Still, though Wednesday’s lunar eclipse may be slightly disappointing from a visual standpoint, from an historical standpoint, it’s a winner. Dickinson explains.
“This particular eclipse is part of saros 142, and is number 18 of 74 in the series, which began on September 19th, 1709. Stick around until July 22nd 2214, and you can witness the very first total lunar eclipse of saros 142, which runs out to November 4th, 2989. If you saw the penumbral lunar eclipse of March 13th, 1998 which was visible from most of North America, then you caught the last lunar eclipse of the series.”
There’s also some religious significance to Wednesday’s full moon. If you come from a culturally Christian tradition, you may remember that Wednesday’s full moon is also called the Paschal Moon — that is, the first full moon following the vernal equinox, and the full moon that precedes Easter.
Are you planning to check out Wednesday’s lunar eclipse?
[Image via Shutterstock/muratart]