On November 28 the last eclipse of 2012 takes place.
Sounds exciting, right? Not so fast, buddy. Solar eclipses (total solar eclipse, right), when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, are exciting. After all, even partial and annular solar eclipses require special equipment to be viewed (see, left). Special equipment makes anything an event.
So a lunar eclipse, those are cool. Hold off there, buckaroo. While all lunar eclipses take place during full moons when the earth blocks the sun’s light from bouncing off the moon, there are different kinds of lunar eclipses, some of which aren’t super cool, visually.
A total lunar eclipse (see, right) is the most striking to watch because the moon relatively quickly goes from full, gradually down to crescent, and then eventually back up to full all very distinctly. A total lunar eclipse can be seen from anywhere on earth where it’s nighttime.
A penumbral lunar eclipse, which will take place on the 28th, is less dramatic because the sun’s light is not completely blocked from the moon by the earth’s shadow. Because a penumbral lunar eclipse is not “total” it cannot be seen from everywhere on earth – the moon is in the penumbra for a short time so if you’re not on earth’s night side at just the right time you’ll miss it.
Chicago is in the zone of being able to see the eclipse at moonset. Great! Slow down, amigo. Moonset is when the moon goes down. (Yes, I know this is simple to figure out, but I had a little trouble wrapping my brain around it.) As in in the morning. As in after sunrise, at least here in Chicago. Doing the mental gymnastics, the lunar eclipse on November 28 actually takes place on the morning of November 28, not when one expects to be able to see a lunar eclipse.
Most of North America we will (hopefully) see the eclipse at moonset. While we here in Central Time will theoretically be able to observe the eclipse at a certain time, of course our Pacific Time neighbors will be more likely to be able to see it since it will be two hours earlier – and darker – there.
After the hard work of calculating Central Time from Universal Time (or using a Website to do it), I have determined the penumbral eclipse begins at 6:17am here in Chicago. At the beginning of the eclipse, if the weather is clear, we may be able to see something. Remember that penumbral lunar eclipses aren’t all that dramatic so even if it is clear, and the moon is visible just over the horizon, the untrained eye won’t be able to notice anything out of the ordinary.
By the time of maximum eclipse, when it’s most likely to be observed, 8:33am, the moon will already be under the horizon. If we could see maximum eclipse on the morning of November 28, it would look soemthing like the photo to the right.
You may be able to see something interesting if you have access to something tall with a nice view west-northwest in the early morning hours. I wouldn’t make a special trip, but if I were lucky enough to live in a high rise I’d set my alarm.
Be patient, because the next eclipse truly visible from Chicago will be the penumbral lunar eclipse on October 18, 2013.