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Get ready! A total eclipse of the Moon is happening in the early hours of Tuesday, November 8—yes, it’s an Election Day total lunar eclipse and it’s visible throughout North America! See your local eclipse times with viewing tips from Bob Berman—plus, Bob shares some secrets of the Moon phases.
Let’s start with the big news—the total lunar eclipse! Then, we’ll take a fun tour of the Moon’s phases and the magic of lunation.
An Election Day Total Lunar Eclipse
From most of the U.S. and Canada, the entire lunar eclipse will be visible early on November 8. Depending on your time zone, that means staying up late on November 7 or setting your alarm to wake up early in the wee hours of November 8. (See the eclipse times for your time zone are below.)
The eclipsed Moon will be a strange, coppery sight—which is why you may hear this referred to as a “Blood Moon.” It’s well worth a look by early risers and insomniacs who have unobstructed views of the low western sky.
And here’s a fun fact: This is the first time in U.S. history that we’re enjoying an Election Day Total Lunar Eclipse. It’s never happened before and won’t happen again until 2394. A little spooky? Truly, it’s just a coincidence of how calendars work, but think what you will!
Watching the November 7/8 Eclipse
Watching a total lunar eclipse won’t match the mind-blowing experience of totality during a solar eclipse or the brief seconds of an exploding meteor fireball. Still, we’re all intrigued to watch our planet’s normally-invisible shadow swallow the moon. It’s proof we really live on a ball. And during totality we marvel at its odd ruddy color.
Admittedly, this eclipse is not very convenient. The first inky bite of our planet’s shadow strikes the Moon at 4:09 E.S.T. meaning just after 4 AM in the Eastern States, and a little after 1 AM in the Pacific Time Zone, which means it’s technically happening the opening hours of Tuesday. During the next hour and change, the moon’s 2,200 mph motion through space pushes it further into the shadow, creating strange, alien shapes. The very weirdest unfold the quarter hour before totality, starting around 5 AM Eastern Time. If you choose one viewing time to set the alarm for, it should be then.
At 5:15 AMEST the eclipse becomes total, and this lasts for nearly an hour. But the Moon is then getting lower and lower, so any hills, houses, or trees may block it altogether. Still, it’s worth a look since lunar totality is a coppery red, caused by our planet’s shadow being orange, not black, since it’s tinted by all the world’s sunrises and sunsets throwing their ruddy light into the shadow. When our atmosphere is unusually cloudy or dusty, like after major volcanic eruptions, totalities have been inky black, with the moon completely vanishing. This variability is one of the big unknowns and inspires curious onlookers who might otherwise prefer the extra hour of sleep.
Bringing up the big question: Is this worth setting the alarm and looking out a west-facing window? I sure will, but it’s probably best to not over-hype it. When it comes to easy, naked-eye celestial events, if we award a score of 100 to a total solar eclipse, then a bright display of the Northern Lights might earn an 80, a so-called “Great Comet” that we see every 20 or 25 years would also earn an 80, a rich meteor shower could get a 40, and a lunar eclipse like the one this next week might earn a 35.
Just to complete this subjective rating of natural sky-events, a good backyard telescope with its views of Saturn’s rings, countless lunar features and awesome star clusters deliver spectacles with ratings of 60-95 on a nightly basis, with travel or calendar-watching usually not required.
Granted these are subjective evaluations, but they’re offered in case you want to appraise the importance of this post-midnight event vis a vis a good night’s sleep!
Eclipse Times (Eastern):
Partial Eclipse begins: 4:09 A.M.
Full Eclipse begins: 5:16 A.M.
Maximum Eclipse: 5:59 A.M.
Full Eclipse ends: 6:41 A.M.
Partial Eclipse ends: 7:49 A.M. Not visible, Moon below horizon.
Eclipse Times (Central):
Partial Eclipse begins: 3:09 A.M.
Full Eclipse begins: 4:16 A.M.
Maximum Eclipse: 4:59 A.M.
Full Eclipse ends: 5:41 A.M.
Partial Eclipse ends: 6:49 A.M. The Moon is close to the horizon now, so make sure you have an open view to the west-northwest.
Eclipse Times (Mountain):
Partial Eclipse begins: 2:09 A.M.
Full Eclipse begins: 3:16 A.M.
Maximum Eclipse: 3:59 A.M.
Full Eclipse ends: 4:41 A.M.
Partial Eclipse ends: 5:49 A.M. Note: Moon sets at 6:48 A.M. MST.
Eclipse Times (Pacific):
Partial Eclipse begins: 1:09 A.M.
Full Eclipse begins: 2:16 A.M.
Maximum Eclipse: 2:59 A.M.
Full Eclipse ends: 3:41 A.M.
Partial Eclipse ends: 4:49 A.M.
More Secrets of the Moon
A Full Moon is the only phase that can be eclipsed, as will happen on November 8. But the full Moon is just one phase of the lunar month. If you’re a Moon lover, let’s talk more about the magic of
A term you rarely hear anyone use is the “lunation.” This is the term that refers to the time it takes the the Moon to pass through all of its phases! There are eight phases: new Moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full Moon, waning gibbous, third quarter and waning crescent.
How Long is a Lunar Month?
The average lunar month lasts about 29 1/3 days (or 29.530575 days)—from the time from one New Moon to the very next New Moon.
A lunation always begins with the New Moon. It’s invisible! The New Moon occurs when it’s between the Sun and the Earth. As of this writing, the last new Moon occurred on Sunday, September 25, and the next new Moon is Friday, October 25.
Every evening after the new Moon, the Moon sets nearly an hour later while growing from a skinny crescent low in twilight and waxing into fatter and higher-up crescents. The Moon is officially “two days old,” then “three days old” and so on as astronomers count the nights since the last New Moon.
The First Quarter Moon
A week after the invisible new Moon phase, the ever-fattening crescents finish their job with the appearance of the First Quarter Moon, which is simply a half Moon that stands at its very highest point at nightfall. Conveniently prominent at dinnertime, this is the best time to see stunning lunar detail through any telescope. Skip desert and drag that old instrument to the backyard.
In practice, telescope users have a five-day optimum observing window each month that stretches from two days before First Quarter to three nights after that phase. Moon phase dates are published in most calendars and newspapers.
As to why the first quarter looks best? Lay a flashlight flush against a wall with the room’s lights turned off, and the sideways torchlight will make the wall show every dimple and bump and every joint-taping imperfection. Then shine the light straight down on the surface and all detail vanishes—the wall now looks perfectly flat. Same with the Moon. The Full Moon is when the Sun shines straight down making craters and mountains disappear.
In the photo above, the large shallow crater is Plato, as photographed by noted New England amateur astronomer Robert Reeves. This is the kind of detail seen within a few days of First Quarter. But at Full Moon, all this detail has vanished.
The Gibbous Moon
The Moon keeps fattening or waxing after that detail-packed first quarter, spending a week in its gibbous state, the phase least well known by the public. Gibbous is simply every shape—often resembling a football that’s fatter than half but thinner than full.
Below is a photo that I took of the gibbous Moon, which will be seen from November 3 to 7, 2022. Notice the craters and mountains on the left side, near the day/night terminator line. But at the Full Moon, its surface looks as flat as it does on the right side of this image.
During this time period many of its best features materialize, such as Copernicus, a young stunning crater whose inner walls are terraced like Asian rice fields. And Clavius, whose floor houses a strangely curved arc of craterlets, each smaller than the previous one. And the very best lunar mountain range, the Apennines, just above the Moon’s midpoint. And a 300-mile-long cliff as high as the Empire State building – the Altai Scarp. And the gorgeous Bay of Rainbows, Sinus Iridum, guarded by two promontories like the lions flanking the stairs to New York’s main library.
After Full Moon, our lunar neighbor rises later and later to strictly become a wee-hours object visible at times like 3 AM or before dawn. Few bother.
Backyard astronomers change their focus during that fortnight as the dark moonless heavens bring the gift of faint deep-space wonders until the next lunation arrives with the ensuing New Moon, coming up on November 23 and then December 23.
With some cultures still marking time and creating calendars and holidays according to lunations, a look at its consequences was probably long overdue on this page!