Saturday, September 26, 2015

A supermoon total eclipse occurs Sunday evening, but will we see it?

The confluence of three celestial events occurs on Sunday evening during "primetime" - not so late that you have to set your alarm for the wee hours to see it, but not so early that the sun interferes with viewing. Unfortunately, Mid-Southerners may have to strain to get a glimpse through a broken layer of clouds.

The three events are of course a full moon, at its closest point to earth this year (making it a "supermoon") and a somewhat rare total eclipse of that supermoon. The supermoon is up to 14% larger and 33% brighter than a "normal" full moon. The lunar eclipse occurs when the earth, sun, and moon all line up, with the earth between the sun and moon, thereby casting it's shadow on the moon. The event is sometimes referred to as a "blood moon," as the shadow cast by earth will actually make the moon a coppery red color, not completely darken it.
Diagram from showing how a "blood moon" is created.
The last time this series of events occurred at the same time was 1982, and it won't happen again until 2033. The next total lunar eclipse that will be visible in the Mid-South, in case viewing conditions aren't optimal this time around, will be in January 2019.

Watch below for a video describing the event:

Here's a graphic showing the times the event will take place. Note that they are in Eastern Daylight Time. It will take place one hour earlier in the Mid-South - partial eclipse begins at 8:07pm, total eclipse occurs from 9:11-10:23pm, and the completion of the eclipse will be at 11:27pm.

So what are our chances of observing this celestial trip of events? Unfortunately not as high as I would hope. I don't believe the entire sky will be overcast, but there could be enough clouds to veil the event and occasionally blot it out completely. So, you may have to check regularly to see if you can catch a glimpse. If you can't see it, you can watch a live webcast of the event at Sky & Telescope.

Forecast cloud cover from the GFS model for Sunday evening. You may have to check regularly for breaks in the clouds to be able to see the eclipse Sunday evening. Graphic courtesy WeatherBell Analytics.

Additional resources for information:
USA Today
Sky & Telescope

Erik Proseus
MWN Meteorologist

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Anonymous said...

Where in the Memphis area is the best place to try to see the supermoon eclipse?

Meteorologist Erik Proseus said...

There won't be one preferred area over another - so wherever you happen to be. The entire metro has the same chance of seeing it as cloud cover won't vary much from one spot to another. Good luck!