When celestial bodies align and put on a show in the sky, it’s no doubt a fascinating sight. While total lunar eclipses steal the spotlight, there’s a subtler yet equally enchanting phenomenon that often goes unnoticed: the penumbral lunar eclipse. In this article, you’ll get to know the science behind a penumbral lunar eclipse and how to watch the next one.
What’s a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse?
As sunlight reaches Earth, it casts two types of shadows: the dark central umbra and the lighter outer penumbra. The umbra results from the complete blockage of sunlight, while the penumbra occurs when sunlight is only partially blocked.
A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through Earth’s penumbral shadow, resulting in a subtle darkening of the lunar surface. Unlike its more dramatic siblings – partial and total lunar eclipses – the penumbral version can be easily overlooked, as the Moon remains visible throughout the event.
When a portion of the Moon passes through Earth’s umbral shadow, we see a partial lunar eclipse. However, when the entire Moon passes through Earth’s umbra, a total lunar eclipse is seen.
The Penumbral Lunar Eclipse of May 5, 2023
The penumbral lunar eclipse is set to commence at 11:15 a.m. EDT (15:15 GMT) and can be witnessed from any location around the world where the Moon is visible above the horizon. This includes Antarctica, Asia, Russia, Oceania, and Eastern and Central Africa. The event will reach its peak at 1:24 p.m. EDT (17:24 GMT) and conclude at 3:32 p.m. EDT (19:32 GMT) as the Moon leaves Earth’s shadow.
As noted by In the Sky, the penumbral eclipse will not be visible from North America, South America, or the majority of Europe, as the Moon will remain below the horizon throughout the entire duration of Earth’s shadow casting upon it.
The Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower: A Fiery Bonus with the lunar eclipse
The alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth is a fascinating sight. This time around, stargazers are in for a celestial double feature: the subtle beauty of the penumbral lunar eclipse will be accompanied by the dazzling Eta Aquariid meteor shower.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is an annual event that occurs when Earth passes through the debris trail left behind by Halley’s Comet. This meteor shower, which usually peaks in early May, is known for its fast and bright meteors, often leaving glowing trails in their wake.
Halley’s Comet, the famous periodic comet with a 75-76 year orbit, is the source of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower. As the comet orbits the Sun, it leaves a trail of debris that Earth passes through each year. When these tiny particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up, creating the stunning display we know as the Eta Aquariid meteor shower.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower typically peaks around May 5-6, with the best viewing hours occurring just before dawn. While the radiant point of the shower is located near the constellation Aquarius, meteors can be spotted across the entire sky. The meteor shower’s activity may be visible for several days before and after its peak.
To make the most of your Eta Aquariid meteor shower experience, follow these tips:
- Find a dark location away from city lights to maximize visibility.
- Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for about 20-30 minutes.
- Lie down or recline in a comfortable position to get a wide view of the sky.
- Be patient, as meteor showers often involve periods of activity followed by lulls.
The meteor shower, however, will peak just a couple of days past the Moon’s full phase. Hence, the Moon will present a significant interference.