This Fri­day, get ready to join the dark side — of a penum­bral lu­nar eclipse

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - SKYWATCH BY BLAINE P. FRIEDLANDER JR. Friedlander can be reached at PostSky­watch@ya­hoo.com.

Prod the kids out­side, give them hot choco­late and gaze to­ward the moon in the east. En­joy the evening penum­bral lu­nar eclipse on Fri­day. Hope for clear skies.

Lu­nar eclipses oc­cur when Earth is per­fectly placed be­tween the sun and the moon. For this eclipse, we’re lucky to be on our planet’s dark side. A to­tal lu­nar eclipse is when the full moon runs through the um­bral (dark­est part) por­tion of Earth’s shadow — the bull’s eye, in dart­board terms.

But this Fri­day, the moon goes through the shadow’s outer band, mak­ing it a penum­bral eclipse. The bright full moon will be­gin ris­ing here in Wash­ing­ton at 5:33 p.m., just as the moon en­ters Earth’s penum­bral shadow. Very slowly, the bright moon will be­gin to dim slightly and turn gray.

It will be eas­ier to dis­cern the dark gray about mide­clipse, which oc­curs at 7:44 p.m., said as­tronomer Ge­off Ch­ester of the U.S. Naval Observatory. “You will see a no­tice­able gray­ing of the north­ern third of the lu­nar disk at that time,” Ch­ester said. “It won’t be red like a to­tal lu­nar eclipse. It will be more gray.”

The moon leaves the penum­bral shadow at 9:55 p.m.

2nd eclipse, plan­ets, Spica

Catch the an­nu­lar so­lar eclipse — a ring-of-fire eclipse — on Slooh.com, with pro­gram­ming that be­gins Feb. 26 at 7 a.m. It’s not vis­i­ble here. This South­ern Hemi­sphere eclipse starts in South Amer­ica, crosses the At­lantic Ocean and moves to­ward Africa.

Draw­ing well-de­served at­ten­tion af­ter sun­set, that lu­mi­nous light in the west­south­west is Venus. Cur­rently at -4.7 mag­ni­tude, quite bright, the siz­zling planet gets more lu­mi­nous in the mid­dle of the month. Like plan­e­tary love­birds, Venus and Mars loi­ter to­gether through­out Fe­bru­ary, but the red­dish Mars is sub­stan­tially fainter at 1.2 mag­ni­tude, still vis­i­ble with the un­aided eye. The Red Planet be­comes dim through the month.

Find the pair through­out Fe­bru­ary in the western evening sky. Al­though the two plan­ets gain more dis­tance be­tween them, the thin cres­cent of a young moon ap­proaches both plan­ets Feb. 27 and scoots closer Feb. 28.

The gi­ant planet Jupiter rises near 11 p.m. now in the east, hang­ing out in the con­stel­la­tion Virgo at about -2.2 mag­ni­tude, bright. The planet trav­els across the heav­ens with the dou­ble star Spica, a first mag­ni­tude ob­ject sim­i­lar in bright­ness to Mars — dim for the Wash­ing­ton area. The sun washes out king of the plan­ets at sun­rise.

The wan­ing gib­bous moon meets up with Jupiter and Spica (a per­ma­nent res­i­dent of the Virgo con­stel­la­tion) Feb. 14-16.

Saturn as­cends the east­south­east a few hours be­fore the sun now. The ringed planet is zero mag­ni­tude, bright enough to see from the city. Be­fore dawn, catch the ringed won­der in the south­east above the tree­tops.

Down-to-Earth events

Sun­day — “Ob­serv­ing High­lights for 2017,” a talk by as­tronomer El­iz­a­beth Warner, who will dis­cuss the Aug. 21 to­tal so­lar eclipse across the United States, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Observatory, Col­lege Park. See the night sky through tele­scopes af­ter­ward, weather per­mit­ting. 8 p.m. as­tro.umd.edu/open­house.

Mon­day — “Stars Tonight” at the David M. Brown Plan­e­tar­ium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Ar­ling­ton, next to Wash­ing­tonLee High School. 7:30 p.m. $3. friend­soft­he­p­lan­e­tar­ium.org.

Fri­day — “Af­ter the James Webb Space Tele­scope,” a lecture by for­mer as­tro­naut John M. Grunsfeld, hosted by the Philo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety of Wash­ing­ton at the John Wes­ley Pow­ell Au­di­to­rium, next to the Cos­mos Club, 2170 Florida Ave. NW. (At the cor­ner of Mas­sachusetts and Florida av­enues.) 8 p.m.philsoc.org.

Satur­day — “African Amer­i­can Pi­o­neers in Avi­a­tion and Space,” Her­itage Fam­ily Day. En­joy hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties and learn about African Amer­i­can as­tro­nauts, pi­lots and sci­en­tists. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum, the Mall. airandspace.si.edu.

Satur­day — “Mars’ In­ten­si­fy­ing Ef­fect on Pho­bos,” a talk by NASA re­searcher Terry Hur­ford on how the Mar­tian moon Pho­bos slowly spi­rals to­ward the planet. Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers, reg­u­lar meet­ing, at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Observatory, Col­lege Park. 7:30 p.m. cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org.

Feb. 12 — “A Hitch­hiker’s Guide to Me­te­orites,” a talk by as­tronomer Cal Pow­ell, at the North­ern Vir­ginia As­tron­omy Club’s reg­u­lar meet­ing, 163 Re­search Hall, Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. 7 p.m.no­vac.com.

Feb. 18 — “African Skies,” find out how South­ern slaves fol­lowed the “drink­ing gourd” north to free­dom. Mont­gomery Col­lege plan­e­tar­ium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. mont­gomerycol­lege.edu/ depart­ments/planet.

Feb. 20 — As­tronomer Drake Dem­ing tells how sci­en­tists hunt ex­o­plan­ets — plan­ets be­yond our so­lar sys­tem. At the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Observatory, Col­lege Park. Night sky view­ing af­ter­ward. 8 p.m. as­tro.umd.edu/open­house.

Feb. 25 — “African Amer­i­can Pi­o­neers in Avi­a­tion and Space,” Her­itage Fam­ily Day. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum’s Steven F. Ud­var-Hazy Cen­ter, Chan­tilly. Park­ing, $15. airandspace.si.edu.

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