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