Monday’s lunar eclipse may be challenge to see

May’s full moon occurs at 4.14pm on Monday, which is just over an hour before moonrise in Dunedin, writes Ian Griffin.

Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Msuem
Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Msuem
Anyone expecting to see a beautiful bright full moon clearing the southeastern horizon on Monday is in for a bit of a rare surprise.

As it rises, the moon will be slowly emerging from Earth’s dark shadow. We will be witnessing the first of this year’s two lunar eclipses. Stargazers with an unobstructed view towards the horizon will see Earth’s umbral shadow covering roughly half of the left-hand side of the lunar surface.

Unfortunately, New Zealand misses the total phase of the eclipse which ends just before 5pm our time. Instead, Kiwis only get to see the last stage of the eclipse. Earth’s dark shadow will leave the lunar disk at 5.55pm, which is just three-quarters of an hour after moonrise. The lighter part of the Earth’s shadow, called its penumbra, departs the lunar surface at 6.50pm which marks the official end of the eclipse.

To be honest, this eclipse will be quite a challenge to observe.

Otago skywatchers will need the sky to be cloud-free near the horizon. The sky will be bright as the moon rises at sunset, and the whole of the best part of the eclipse takes place with the moon at a very low altitude.

Despite these difficulties, as with all astronomical phenomena, I am actually quite excited by the circumstances of this particular eclipse. With this in mind, I plan to find myself a photographic perch for my telescope somewhere atop the Otago Peninsula, where I can watch the moon rise over the southern ocean.

The eclipse should, just, be visible to the unaided eye. However, to improve your chances of seeing it you will probably need a pair of binoculars.

This particular event may seem underwhelming to anyone other than passionate eclipse cognoscenti. I am, therefore, delighted to report we won’t have to wait long for a ringside seat for a really brilliant lunar eclipse later in the year. Mark your calendar for November 8.

 

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