Roy Exum: Sunday’s Blood Eclipse

  • Friday, January 18, 2019
  • Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The sun, the moon, the stars, and the celebration of the late Martin Luther King are inching towards a perfect alignment for this Sunday night. At just before midnight, every child below the age of 99 … and, yes, there are other “older children” like me … will be able to watch a total lunar eclipse. This super blood moon is going to be fun because we will be able to see the moon and the stars in the same sky – usually the moon is too bright to see the stars at the same time, according to the Cherokee of the early 1800s.

My modern-day chums at AccuWeather are predicting, as of this morning, a clear night for the eclipse – despite freezing temperatures in the 20s – and, no, you will need no special eyewear as is required for a daylight eclipse. What is called the ‘maximum peak’ of this Sunday’s eclipse will appear in Chattanooga’s skies at 12:12 a.m. (early Monday morning) and that’s where Dr. King steps forward – since our nation honors MLK this Monday, schools will be closed so there is one more reason our students can stay up late.

This will be “an epic moon event, according to those in the know at Space.com. “Overnight from Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, into Monday, Jan. 21, millions of people in North and South America will have a prime view of a total lunar eclipse. During a special nocturnal hour, the full moon will become fully tinted with the red-orange color of sunset.”

The website also explains why this type of eclipse is rare. “The Jan. 21 total lunar eclipse will be the last one until May 2021, and the last one visible from the United States until 2022.” The first total lunar eclipse to follow Jan. 21's event will occur on May 26, 2021, and will be visible over the Pacific Ocean, with viewing possibilities in North America, South America and east Asia.

The number of eclipse watchers soared higher than the heavens last July when we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience and what is fun about Sunday night’s show is that the Jan. 20-21, 2019 total lunar eclipse will last one hour and two minutes, according to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center lunar eclipse projections.

What is a blood moon? “Lunar eclipses ... reflect our world," astronomer and podcaster Pamela Gay told Space.com in an email. "A blood colored moon is created (by) ash from fires and volcanoes, ... dust storms and pollution all filtering sunlight as it scatters around our world. A grey eclipse is clear skies. Our world can change the appearance of another world, and during an eclipse, the universe lets us see this color play," she said.

It is believed the full experience, from the start of the partial eclipse to the end, will last three hours and 17 minutes. The peak of the total lunar eclipse will happen shortly after day's end on Sunday, Jan. 20, on the U.S. east coast, at 12:16 a.m. EST (0516 GMT) on Monday, Jan. 21,” according to the experts at Space.com, “This peak is also known as the "greatest eclipse" and is defined as the moment when the moon comes closest to the axis of Earth's shadow.”

A fabulous website is timeanddate.com, which was wonderful during the July eclipse. If you are reading this from outside the Chattanooga community, go to timeanddate.com and type in your location. You will immediately receive a time table for this Sunday’s phenomena.

If you are in the Chattanooga area, here is what our timetable looks like:

* * *

THE STAGES OF THE SUPER BLOOD MOON ECLIPSE OVER CHATTANOOGA JAN. 17-18, 2019

(All times are Eastern Standard)

Duration: 5 hours, 11 minutes, 33 seconds

Duration of totality: 1 hour, 1 minute, 58 seconds

Penumbral begins: Jan 20 at 9:36:29 pm

Partial begins: Jan 20 at 10:33:54 pm

Full begins: Jan 20 at 11:41:17 pm

Maximum: Jan 21 at 12:12:14 am

Full ends: Jan 21 at 12:43:15 am

Partial ends: Jan 21 at 1:50:39 am

Penumbral ends: Jan 21 at 2:48:02 am

* * *

If the clouds block our view, both Space.com and NASA.gov (Shutdown withstanding) will offer real-time coverage of the eclipse from beginning to end.

* * *

WE HAVE ALMOST ‘FRONT-ROW CENTER’ SEATS

(Note: Jack Rao is an instructor and lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He is believed to not only be an expert in astronomy but very gifted in his ability to explain it. This is an excerpt from one of his recent contributions to Space.com)

To describe a lunar eclipse, I like to use a movie theater analogy. The "theater," in this case, is the night side of Earth. The "screen" is the full moon, and the "movie" is the progression of Earth's shadow across the face of the moon.

Everyone in the theater looking at the movie sees the same thing everyone else around them is seeing. And, similarly, everyone on the night side of Earth who has the full moon in the sky during the eclipse will see the same sequence of events happening at the same moment in time.

The total phase of the eclipse will be visible from the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the western part of Africa, as well as the northernmost portions of Russia. In all, assuming good weather conditions, this shady little drama will have a potential viewing audience of some 2.8 billion people.

Of course, as is the case in a large theater, auditorium or concert hall, some will have a better view than others. For the upcoming eclipse, the "orchestra seats" will most definitely be in North America, which will see this celestial performance high in the midwinter sky. "Front row center" belongs to those who live near and along the U.S. East Coast, where the totally eclipsed moon will climb to extraordinary heights.

From New York City at midtotality, the darkened moon will stand 70 degrees up from the southern horizon — your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees in width, so that's "seven fists" from the horizon. The last time New Yorkers could gaze so high at a totally eclipsed moon was in 1797, when John Adams was president; the next opportunity won't come until 2113. Farther south, the moon will appear even higher. From Cape Hatteras, it will reach 75 degrees; Orlando, 80 degrees; and Miami, 83 degrees.

And from eastern Cuba, the moon will appear directly overhead.

* * *

WALTER FREEMAN, PHYSICIST, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: “Minutes after 10:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, or shortly past 7:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Earth's shadow will start passing in front of the moon from the lower left, and about an hour later, the full lunar eclipse appears. This totality lasts roughly another hour, and at about 1:45 a.m. EST on Jan. 21 (10:45 p.m. PST on Jan. 20), the full moon will return to its normal appearance.”

"A little bit of sunlight is refracted by the Earth's atmosphere… bending around the edges of the Earth" before reaching the moon, causing the reddish tint. The moon doesn't disappear from sight but does become "10,000 or so times dimmer than usual."

* * *

AND, TO THINK: When my boy Willard and I were preparing to register for our freshman year, he got into a froth when he read astronomy was “the study of heavenly bodies.” The boy hasn’t looked up ever since.

royexum@aol.com

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