Saturday's early morning eclipse in the Northland sky should be worth the chill
Few would choose to wake up before sunrise on a Saturday morning and step outside in single-digit cold, but this weekend it might be worth your while.
The moon will undergo a partial eclipse early Saturday for skywatchers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It will be a total eclipse for viewers in the western U.S. and Canada, Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe.
For the Duluth region, the first sign that something odd is happening will be around 6:30 a.m., when shading from the Earth's outer shadow dims the moon's upper edge, giving it a blunted appearance. Fifteen minutes later the dark inner shadow takes its first bite of lunar cheese and the eclipse is under way.
About 40 percent of the moon will be cloaked in shadow before it disappears below the horizon.
For the best view, eclipse watchers should pick a place with a wide open view to the west-northwest. The end of Park Point or a wide open field north of the city would be ideal.
Eclipses are uncommon enough that each is special and not to be missed. Lunar eclipses always and only happen at full moon, when the sun, Earth and moon are lined up in a neat row.
Here's what's happening:
The Earth casts a shadow into space the same way trees cast shadows on the ground. When the moon slides into our planet's circular shadow, we can watch it slowly nibble away at the moon until only a crescent remains. When the last bit of moon slips into the dark inner portion of the shadow, called the umbra, Earth's atmosphere bends sunlight into the shadow and paints the moon a coppery red.
You can see the color with the naked eye during the partial phases, but bring along a pair of binoculars for the best view.
We'd get a lunar eclipse every full moon if the moon's orbit were flat, but because it's slightly tipped, the moon normally passes above or below the shadow and no eclipse occurs. The next total lunar eclipse for our region happens on April 15, 2014.
Saturday morning's forecast calls for a partly cloudy sky with a low temperature of 3 degrees. Bundle up and head on out. Between 6:45 and 7:30 is the best time for eclipse viewing. For your shivers, you'll witness part of the grand gravitational dance of the celestial bodies that affect Earth most.
We also get a consolation prize. Because the moon will be near the horizon the entire time, it will appear unusually large thanks to the "full moon illusion," a bit of psychological trickery that makes it seem bigger than when viewed higher up.
The moon's low altitude also will make it easy to photograph it against a beautiful landscape of your choosing.