On September 27, beginning at 10:11 p.m., set your stargazing eyes toward earth’s natural satellite as a “supermoon”—a non-astronomical moniker for when the moon’s orbit brings it close to earth—and a total lunar eclipse collide. It’s a celestial phenomenon that has not happened in 32 years, and won’t happen for another 18. Easily visible throughout South Florida—weather permitting—the eclipse will last one hour and 12 minutes, with moon-gazers able to witness the entirety of the event, from beginning to end, with partial phases thrown in to boot.
Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Brian Day
“[The eclipse] is very easy to observe, taking place over a period of hours, and really all you need is your eyes, at most a pair of binoculars,” says Sam Storch, a board member with the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches and a Fellow with the International Planetarium Society. Adding that “this one runs from the mid evening until about 12:30 in the morning, so it is really convenient; you don’t have to get up at some crazy hour before dawn.”
A total eclipse, when the moon is completely engulfed by earth’s shadow, paints the moon a reddish, coppery color, the result of sunlight bending through earth’s atmosphere. But for amateur astronomers and backyard sky seekers, what exactly should we look for?
First and foremost, this lunar event is easily discernable, even with all the light pollution generated in South Florida. “The skies in the Palm Beaches are measurably brighter than New York City, and the reason is a combination of unshielded street lights and high humidity,” says Storch, who recently retired to South Florida after a career as a professor of astronomy and physics at Nassau Community College in New York, as well as a lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium. His advice is to find a place without a “street shining light in your face, or even visible down the block.” For some of the best lunar eclipse gazing, try the beach: “The moon rises over the ocean, no street lights in your way; you can enjoy the entire eclipse.”
Near total lunar eclipse.
Photo: WikiMedia Commons/Andrew tk tang
As for the eclipse itself, it’s not all about totality. “The best, most attractive parts of one of these events is right before the beginning of totality, and right after the end,” says Storch. “The reason is you have what we call the Japanese Lantern Effect, a combination of white, yellow, orange, and red—its really, really colorful—that lasts a few minutes before the moon slips completely into [and out of] the shadow.”
If you are not making a trek to the beach, opting to view the eclipse from the comfort of home, Storch recommends to view the eclipse in stages: “Go out and look at the moon before the eclipse begins, around 7:30 or so. Then set a kitchen timer so that every 10 minutes or so, you go outside and take a look. During the night you will build up a movie in your head how the eclipse progresses. You will see the turning of the earth, as well as see the moon slipping in and out of the earth’s shadow.”
On a broader, extraterrestrial sense, Storch says consider this: “When you look at a total eclipse of the moon. You, personally, are part of a perfectly straight line: It is an astronomical alignment of the sun, then the earth, then you, then the moon. So during totality, you are part of this straight line in our solar system.” Kind of cool, right?
For a total eclipse breakdown, here’s a time chart and what to expect during the supermoon lunar eclipse of 2015.
- Penumbral Eclipse begins at 8:40 p.m. This will be difficult to discern with the naked eye.
- Partial Eclipse begins at 9:07 p.m. This is where part of the moon will start being covered.
- Full Eclipse begins at 10:11 p.m.
- Maximum Eclipse at 10:47 p.m. During this phase the moon may look reddish.
- Full Eclipse ends at 11:23 p.m.
- Partial Eclipse ends on September 28 at 12:27 a.m. Part of the moon will loose coverage.
- Penumbral Eclipse ends at 1:22 a.m.
For more on the Total Supermoon Eclipse, check out this handy video from NASA:
If the Total Lunar Eclipse has tickled your astronomical fancy, Storch says join the Astronomical Society for the monthly club meeting—the first Wednesday of the month at the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium—the next one will be on October 7 and will include a presentation by Jerry Niksch and Dan Boyer about “Antique Telescopes,” as well as “What’s in the Sky,” and “Ask the Expert” segments.
- For more information about the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches, visit palmbeachastro.org.
For observing sessions, there are a few opportunities for nonmembers to peer into space:
- On the last Friday of the month, the Astronomical Society joins the Science Center for the monthly “Nights at the Museum” events, manning the 14” telescope in the observatory—admission is $12; for more information, visit sfsciencecenter.org.
- Beginning in October, the Astronomical Society will join the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach for Astronomy Nights on select Fridays through February for stargazing and educational discussions—admission is $10, $5 for kids; for more information, visit marinelife.org/experiences.
- From October through March, join the astronomical crew for their Quarter Moon Library Observing Sessions. Scheduled for the Tuesday of the week of the Quarter Moon, telescopes will peer into the night’s sky from 7-8 p.m. at the Hagen Ranch, Jupiter, and Wellington libraries.
For the at-home stargazer, there is nothing better than observing the moon slip into the earth’s shadow with a cocktail in hand. Celebrate the rarity of the lunar event with the apropos Eclipse. Calling for a rather interesting fruit-infused liquor, sloe gin, sloe berries, a plum relative, are usually too bitter to eat raw but are great when mixed with gin, and really give this cocktail a unique flavor. Enjoy!
- 1 oz. gin
- 2 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin Liqueur
- ½ tsp. lemon juice
In a cocktail glass, pour enough grenadine to just cover a cherry. Mix remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, strain into glass and garnish with a cherry.