Only total lunar eclipse in 2019 graces the New Mexico winter night sky

By Gary Zientara
For The Taos News
Posted 1/23/19

Lunar eclipses are like fine wines. They are to be appreciated slowly and enjoyed for their color and "taste." The Full Super Wolf Blood Moon of Jan. 20 was one to be savored for its beauty and stature.

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Only total lunar eclipse in 2019 graces the New Mexico winter night sky

Posted

Just about everyone heard the hype but not all got to see one of the most spectacular astronomical events visible to the naked eye: a total lunar eclipse.

Unlike solar eclipses that literally begin and end in a flash, lunar eclipses are like fine wines. They are to be appreciated slowly and enjoyed for their color and "taste." The Full Super Wolf Blood Moon of Jan. 20 was one to be savored for its beauty and stature. Besides being the only total lunar eclipse for 2019, it was spectacular for its location high in the sky.

The eclipse began when the Full Wolf Moon (so named in Native American lore for the February Moon) was 30 degrees above the east-northeast horizon at 7:36 p.m. MST. The Earth's penumbra, the outer dimmer shadow, started covering the lower right limb of the dazzling bright moon. The shadow's touch was so subtle that only sensitive cameras could detect its presence.

However, by 8:34 p.m., even a casual glance revealed that something was happening to our closest neighbor in the solar system.

The Earth's darker umbra shadow began to creep forward, devouring the moon's light as it covered its tortured cratered surface. By 8:50, half the moon was gone. It was like viewing half of the moon's monthly phases in less than 20 minutes.

At 9:15, Earth's shadow had stolen most of the moon's glare and it became noticeably darker with more stars shining in the sky than before. The shadowed part of the moon started taking on a reddish-orange tint. At 9:41, the Earth's umbra completely covered the moon and the tint was a copper red hue. This ruddy color comes from all the sunrises and sunsets around the limb of the Earth. If you were standing on the moon at this moment, you'd see Earth's nighttime side lit up by lights outlining the populated areas of our planet. And this view would be framed in a circular glow of red called "earthshine."

As the totality phase of this eclipse continued, until 10:43 p.m., earthbound observers (that's all of us under clear skies across the United States) got to see the full splendor of the winter starry night with a red orb stuck in the middle. By 11 p.m., the moon began to shine again in the same place where the Earth's shadow had originally encroached and at 11:48 it was over.

Upcoming Astronomical Events in February

Here are some more cool things to see in New Mexico's night skies next month:

FEB. 1 -- Jupiter, Venus, thin crescent moon and Saturn line up to welcome the sunrise.

FEB. 19 -- Venus and Saturn go side by side in the predawn sky and the Full Snow Moon rises in the night sky.

FEB. 21 -- Through the rest of winter, the mysterious Zodiacal Light and Gegenschein return to glow above the western horizon after sunset and directly above at midnight.

You can learn more about these events and others by visiting mountsangreobservatory.com. Gary Zientara updates the website near the end or at the beginning of each month.

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