Backyard astronomy: Mark your calendars to see total lunar eclipse May 15th

Gary Boyle Monday, May 9, 2022 One of the best spectacles in the night sky is a total lunar eclipse. No special equipment is required to watch this cosmic lineup. In contrast to a solar eclipse, the lunar variety is very safe to witness and enjoy.

On the night of Sunday, May 15, the full Flower Moon will creep into the much larger earth’s shadow with the entire event lasting about three-and-a-half hours. Early civilizations called it the Blood Moon, as our natural satellite would sometimes take on a reddish hue. Superstition tells the story of doom and gloom. The ancient Inca people would shake their spears and shout to scare off the jaguar they thought was eating the moon. Of course, it always worked. Other times, the moon appeared to turn a copper or burnt-orange colour. This variation from one eclipse to another depends on how transparent or lack of our atmosphere is. The coloured lunar surface is the result of sunlight refracting or passing through our atmosphere, much like seeing a red sunset.

Although eclipses were terrifying events to various cultures, Christopher Columbus used a prediction from an almanac to save his shipwrecked crew from starvation. Months before the 1504 total eclipse, his crew was stranded off the coast of Jamaica. They were welcomed by the Arawak, and given food and shelter. Over time half the crew mutinied, and began stealing and murdering some of the friendly Indigenous peoples.

Things became dire as the chief held back food resulting in starvation. Columbus knew the predicted eclipse would occur in a few days and used it to his advantage. He fooled the chief into believing he had great powers to cause the moon to turn a fearful tinge of blood red. On the night of Feb. 29, 1504, the moon rose while entering earth’s shadow. This was of great concern to the villagers and they provided food to the crew once again. Columbus waited in his tent until the right moment as per the prediction. A few minutes before the end of totality, he announced that his gods had pardoned them. As he uttered these words, the moon began to pull out of the shadow and appear normal once again. A rescue mission found Columbus and his crew at the end of June that year.

We do not witness an eclipse every month because the moon has a slight incline of its axis as it orbits our planet. On a few special moments throughout the year, the sun, earth and moon line up. Some events are total, but others result in the moon clipping the earth’s shadow. This is a partial eclipse and also occurs during a solar eclipse.

Although not necessary to view the event, try to head out of city limits and away from light sources for the best digital photography. Although a cellphone will record the eclipse, a DSLR camera on a tripod will be needed to capture the lovely Milky Way to the left of the eclipsed and much darker moon. Use a cable release to open the camera shutter for a few seconds during the totality. Set the camera on manual and experiment with exposure times. Remember pixels are free.

The eastern and most of the central portion of North America will witness the entire eclipse from start to finish. For mountain and western time zones, the eclipse will be underway as the moon rises. Enjoy this must-see event, if at all possible. The next total lunar eclipse will occur on Nov. 8 of this year, and favours the west coast.


Related content Backyard astronomy: Last month, Earth dodged a solar bullet Newfoundland and Labrador Partial umbral eclipse begins: 11:57 p.m. Moon enters the earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse begins: 12:59 a.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 1:41 a.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 2:23 a.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 3:25 a.m. Moon completely exits earth’s shadow. Atlantic time Partial umbral eclipse begins: 11:27 p.m. Moon enters the earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse begins: 12:29 a.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 1:11 a.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 1:53 a.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 2:55 a.m. Moon exits earth’s shadow. Eastern time Partial umbral eclipse begins: 10:27 p.m. Moon enters the earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse begins: 11:29 p.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 12:11 a.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 12:53 a.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 1:55 a.m. Moon completely exits earth’s shadow. Central time Partial umbral eclipse begins: 9:27 p.m. Moon enters the earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse begins: 10:29 p.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 11:11 p.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 11:53 p.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 12:55 a.m. Moon exits earth’s shadow. Mountain time Partial umbral eclipse begins: 8:27 p.m. Moon enters the earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipse begins: 9:29 p.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 10:11 p.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 10:53 p.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 11:55 p.m. Moon exits earth’s shadow. Pacific time Partial umbral eclipse begins: 7:27 p.m. Moon will rise as the eclipse begins. Total lunar eclipse begins: 8:29 p.m. Moon turns dark orange or red. Greatest eclipse: 9:11 p.m. Midpoint of the eclipse. Total lunar eclipse ends: 9:53 p.m. Moon begins to leave the shadow. Partial umbral eclipse ends: 10:55 p.m. Moon exits earth’s shadow. Till next time, clear skies.

Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, public speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He has also been interviewed on more than 50 Canadian radio stations and has been honoured with the renaming of Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or at his website, wondersofastronomy.com.


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