A total eclipse of the moon will be visible on Saturday morning, followed by a meteor shower Wednesday morning, reports John Charlesworth, a local astronomer.
The moon will first start to move into Earth’s shadow, called the umbra, at 4:46 a.m. Saturday. The moon will move deeper and deeper into Earth’s shadow until it is totally eclipsed, beginning at 6:06 a.m., he said.
Totality will continue until 6:57 a.m. at which time it will begin to leave the umbra. The subsequent partial eclipse will last until 8:18 a.m., but we will not be able to see the ending of the partial eclipse because the moon will set at about 7:20 a.m., which is also about the time of sunrise, Charlesworth said.
The totally eclipsed moon will take on a dull rusty red-orange color due to the absorption of the blue and green parts of the solar spectrum as sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere on its way toward the moon. In other words, the moon’s reddish glow is caused by light from all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth, he said.
The moon will be located in the western sky between the horns of Taurus the bull. The bright white star Capella will be above the moon. Red-orange planet Mars will be in the constellation Leo, which will be in the middle of the southern sky during the eclipse. The bright reddish star Arcturus will be in the east.
No telescopes or other optical aids are needed to see and enjoy the eclipse, but binoculars will make it more vivid, Charlesworth said.
The next total lunar eclipse visible from Napa will not occur until April, 2014.
On Tuesday night, the Geminid meteor shower should be one of the two best displays of meteors during the year, Charlesworth said.
The ideal time to view the shower is from about 1 to 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, when Gemini is highest in the sky. But the display should be fairly good any time after about 9 p.m. Tuesday until the first hints of sunrise at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, he said.
Unfortunately, this year the near-full moon will make it difficult to see the fainter meteors, he said.
A meteor shower is an abundance of small bits of rock and dust entering Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and being heated to incandescence. The resulting bright streaks of light are commonly called shooting or falling stars, though they have nothing to do with stars.
This rocky/dusty material is debris from a comet or asteroid which passed through this part of space many years ago. Each year, on the same date, Earth passes through this stream of celestial litter which causes this beautiful celestial display.
To view this meteor shower, find a fairly dark place and give your eyes at least ten minutes to fully dilate. Sit in a comfortable chair and face northeast and look high in the sky. Do not use binoculars which might restrict your view, Charlesworth said.
Due to the moon’s interference, a bright and often colorful “shooting star” should be visible every two to five minutes and sometimes more frequently than that, Charlesworth said.