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Sunday, November, 27

Finally, a Fabulous Eclipse! An Almost-Total Lunar Eclipse November 18-19

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Finally—a lunar eclipse worth setting the alarm for! We’re talking about a nearly total lunar eclipse (97% coverage!) on November 18–19, 2021. Wait until you see it—brightly lit polar cap on an otherwise red sphere. Get times and info on how to see it from Bob Berman.

This lunar eclipse is especially welcome because in the past few years we’ve had a bizarre series of penumbral lunar eclipses—the kind where the Full Moon doesn’t change its appearance. We’ve been stuck with one after another of these nothingburger events, or non-events, and when a genuine visible lunar eclipse finally did happen this past May, it wasn’t visible from virtually the entire US and Canada.

But next Thursday night, our luck changes. We’ll finally get the real deal.

An Almost-Total Eclipse in 2021

This is a fabulously odd eclipse set to coincide with the full Beaver Moon. It’s technically a “partial lunar eclipse.” The Sun, the Earth, and Moon are lined up in almost-perfect alignment so that the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow and turns dark. See all eclipses for 2021 and 2022—and eclipse definitions.

However, what’s unusual in the case of this partial eclipse is that it will be up to 97% covered by the Earth’s shadow—almost total! Don’t feel any disappointment that the Moon will not get totally 100% eclipsed. Sure, when it comes to solar eclipses, totality is everything. It’s super important because that’s when all the fantastic stuff happens. But not with the Moon.

At 97% coverage, this is an unusually deep partial eclipse and almost total.  A tiny bit of sunlight will strangely hit a small piece of the Moon. Yet wait till you see it. It’ll look like a brightly lit polar cap on an otherwise red sphere.

Very cool. This will deliver all the visceral dramatic punch you could want.

NASA

What Time is the Lunar Eclipse? 

This lunar eclipse is worth setting the alarm for! And this is where another oddity kicks in: since it’s after midnight in most of the U.S. and Canada, it’s technically happening early the morning of Friday, November 19, so make sure you set the alarm on the correct night.

  • The first dot of Earth’s shadow will start touching the Moon at 2:18 AM Eastern time. (Note: That’s 11:18 PM Pacific Time.) The Moon will be high in the sky. See when the Moon rises and sets in your location. You may see the Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters) near the Moon.
     
  • For the next hour and a half the Moon will get increasingly blacked out, until at very nearly 4:00 AM EST (or 1:00 AM PST), the eclipse will reach its maximum. So that’s the sweet spot, the early hours of Friday morning, November 19, with the Moon now lowish in the west and looking distinctly reddish since Earth casts a red shadow into space.

When the alarm rings on Friday morning, look out a window facing the southwest.

Times of Eclipse Phases (EST)

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 1:02 AM 
  • Partial Eclipse Begins: 2:19 AM
  • Greatest Eclipse: 4:03 a.m. EST
  • Partial Eclipse Ends: 5:47 a.m. EST
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 7:04 a.m. EST

Longest Partial Lunar Eclipse in 1,000 Years

And here’s a final oddity. This eclipse will last 6 hours and two minues in total—the longest partial lunar eclipse for 1,000 years.

As EarthSky reports, “The November 19, 2021, partial lunar eclipse – which is best overnight on November 18 for North America – will be the longest such event within a stretch of 1,000 years. The last partial lunar eclipse that stretched longer happened on February 18, 1440. The next time Earth will see a partial lunar eclipse as lengthy as this month’s will be on February 8, 2669.”

The last time a partial lunar eclipse lasted that long was in the year 1440, when the Incas were building Machu Picchu.
The last time a partial lunar eclipse lasted that long was in the year 1440, when the Incas were building Machu Picchu.

The main reason this eclipse is super-long is because of the positions of the Moon and Earth. In this case, the Moon is at its furthest point from Earth in its orbit (apogee). At a further distance, the Moon travels more slowly; thus, it takes longer to pass through Earth’s shadow and remains covered for a longer duration.

Lunar Eclipse Best Seen From North America

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Happily, the eclipse will be visible from many locations across the globe the night of November 18–19! This year, that covers ALL of North America through South America; it’s also visible from Australia and parts of Europe and Asia. See the map below, which shows visibility.

Visibility of partial lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Visibility of partial lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

So, set the alarm for 4 and it’ll look weirdly worthwhile, guaranteed, and there’s nothing that a true complete totality would add.  

Then you can go back to sleep having begun the day with a spectacle we haven’t seen in years.

See the Almanac’s Full Moon Guide for November!

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