To­tal lu­nar eclipse starts new year

Kent County News - - OPINION - DEN­NIS HER­RMANN

The year 2019 be­gins with a to­tal lu­nar eclipse, when our moon passes into the Earth’s shadow on the night of Jan. 20/21.

This as­tro­nom­i­cal treat may be seen by sky­watch­ers across North and South Amer­ica, as our nat­u­ral satel­lite en­ters the Earth’s um­bra shadow at 10:34 p.m.

Since no di­rect sun­light en­ters the Earth’s shadow, the shadow will look dark at first, but as the moon moves more deeply into the shadow, and as to­tal­ity ap­proaches, it ap­pears dis­tinctly red­dish-or­ange. This color is be­cause the Sun’s light is re­fracted, or bent, into the shadow by the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

The or­ange color will deepen at to­tal­ity; when the moon is com­pletely in­side Earth’s shadow. To­tal­ity will last for 62 min­utes, start­ing at 11:41 p.m. Jan. 20. To­tal­ity will end at 12:43 a.m. Jan. 21, and the moon will exit Earth’s shadow com­pletely at 1:51 a.m.

Un­like so­lar eclipses, where we are look­ing di­rectly at the sun, and the moon passes in front of it cast­ing its shadow onto Earth, lu­nar eclipses are com­pletely safe to ob­serve. We are just look­ing at the full moon dur­ing lu­nar eclipses.

The only time to look with­out eye pro­tec­tion at a so­lar eclipse is dur­ing to­tal­ity, when the sun is com­pletely blocked by the moon, and this only lasts from one to seven min­utes.

A so­lar eclipse from start to fin­ish will last about 90 min­utes, while lu­nar eclipses are much longer. The Jan. 20/ 21 eclipse will be three hours, 19 min­utes from be­gin­ning to end.

Do not pass up this op­por­tu­nity to see this to­tal lu­nar eclipse, be­cause the next one will not be un­til May 2021. And pray for clear skies!

Mars con­tin­ues to grace our south­ern skies through Jan­uary, though it is dim­mer now at + 0.7 mag­ni­tude be­cause it has moved far­ther away from us in its or­bit. This is how­ever, still bright enough to make it the bright­est ob­ject in the south, as Mars ap­pears among the stars of the dim zo­diac con­stel­la­tion Pisces.

The other vis­i­ble plan­ets are all in the pre- dawn eastern sky this month.

New Year’s Day it­self dawns with a lineup of three plan­ets near a wan­ing cres­cent moon in the last hour or so be­fore the sun rises. The moon rises at about 3 a. m. on Jan. 1, while Venus will rise about 3: 30 a. m., just 5 de­grees away. Jupiter will rise about 90 min­utes af­ter Venus and Mer­cury one hour af­ter that.

These four so­lar sys­tem ob­jects will spread across some 35 de­grees of sky that morn­ing with Venus 30 de­grees above the east- ern hori­zon, Jupiter 15 de­grees up and Mer­cury 4 de­grees above the hori­zon 45 min­utes be­fore sun­rise.

Venus’s or­bit will cause it to lose al­ti­tude through Jan­uary, while Jupiter will seem to gain al­ti­tude. By Jan. 22 the two will have a beau­ti­ful con­junc­tion, with Venus at - 4.6 mag­ni­tude and Jupiter at - 1.8 mag­ni­tude. Venus will be just 2 de­grees above Jupiter. Both will rise by 5 a. m. lo­cal time.

The Quad­ran­tid me­teor shower, named af­ter an an­cient con­stel­la­tion called Quad­rans Mu­ralis, will peak for us on the night of Jan. 3. The di­rec­tion to look is to­ward the north­east and the best time would be from 2 a.m. to 5 a. m. on Jan. 4, although some me­te­ors may be seen as early as 10 or 11 p. m. Jan. 3.

From 30 to 120 me­te­ors are of­ten counted from the Quad­ran­tids, with the larger num­bers com­ing in the early pre- dawn hours.

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