Celebration of Space - May 21, 2021

The Total Wolf Moon Eclipse of January 2019 at Frosty Drew Observatory. Image credit: Scott MacNeill

The Total Wolf Moon Eclipse of January 2019 at Frosty Drew Observatory. Image credit: Scott MacNeill

This coming Wednesday, May 26, 2021, A Total Lunar Eclipse will occur for a large part of planet Earth. This happens when the Moon orbits into and through Earth’s primary shadow called the Umbra. Considering that the Moon orbits Earth inclined 5.1° to the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes across the sky, and represents the plane of the Solar System), instead of orbiting around Earth’s Equator, the Moon will pass directly into alignment with the Earth and the Sun several times per year. When the Moon achieves this alignment on the opposite side of Earth than the Sun, a lunar eclipse will occur. Alternatively, when the Moon aligns in between the Sun and Earth, a solar eclipse will occur.

A total lunar eclipse is often referred to as a Blood Moon, which is based in myth, and relates to the color of the Moon during the total eclipse stage, which is a crimson red. Though the shade and depth of the red hue is not always the same. The reason for this coloring is due to something called Rayleigh Scattering, which is the same reason why the sky is blue. The blue side of the visible spectrum is the high(er) energy side, with very narrow wavelengths. When blue light enters Earth’s atmosphere it scatters and becomes polarized. This will keep blue light in the atmosphere with the lower energy colors of the spectrum (green and red) passing through the atmosphere. During a total lunar eclipse, sunlight refracts through Earth’s atmosphere and onto the Moon. When doing so, the blue light remains in Earth’s atmosphere with the reds and some greens continuing on to illuminate the Moon. Depending on the condition of Earth’s atmosphere, more green light could be filtered as well, resulting in a deeper red hue. The latter measure comes down to the amount of smoke and / or ash in the atmosphere.

Now the sad part. This particular lunar eclipse will not be visible over New England. The best place to be for the eclipse is Hawaii. But residents of the western side of the US will catch a view of most of the eclipse. In New England, the initial penumbral eclipse will be visible when the Moon sets with the rising Sun, but this will not be very apparent, if at all. Fret not, a live view can be seen online, compliments of TimeandDate, starting at 5:30 am ET. With the best time to tune in around 7:00 am ET.

Have you been out each night this past week catching sight of the new Chinese space station? The views have been spectacular. Regatrdless, fantastic evening passes of Tianhe-1 - the Chinese space station, continue this week with several beautiful opportunities to catch sight of the new orbital residence. Here is a list of notable passes for this week:

Fri, May 21 at 10:03 pm, starting in the W, rising to 47°, and into orbital sunset.
Sat, May 22 at 8:59 pm, starting in the W, rising to 71°, heading towards the ESE, and into orbital sunset. ← Fabulous Pass!
Sun, May 23 at 9:32 pm, starting in the W, rising to 35°, and into orbital sunset
Mon, May 24 at 10:05 pm, starting in the WSW, rising to 14° and into orbital sunset.
Tue, May 25 at 9:01 pm, starting in the W, rising to 25°, heading towards the SSE, and into orbital sunset.

We also have a continuation of the International Space Station (ISS) performing daily passes over our region in the evening. The ISS far outshines Tianhe-1 because its construction is completed, making it quite larger. Though several passes of the ISS are visible each day this week, there aren’t any spectacular passes happening until mid-week this coming week. Here are the most notable passes for each day:

Fri, May 21 at 8:46 pm, starting in the WNW, rising to 21°, heading towards the NNE
Sat, May 22 at 9:37 pm, starting in the NW, rising to 14°, heading towards the NNE
Sun, May 23 at 10:26 pm, starting in the NNW, rising to 17°, heading towards the NE
Mon, May 24 at 11:15 pm, starting in the NW, rising to 34°, and into orbital sunset
Tue, May 25 at 10:28 pm, starting in the NW, rising to 27°, and into orbital sunset
Wed, May 26 at 9:40 pm, starting in the NNW, rising to 21°, heading towards the ENE
Wed, May 26 at 11:17 pm, starting in the NW, rising to 33°, and into orbital sunset
Thu, May 27 at 10:29 pm, starting in the NW, rising to 56°, and into orbital sunset ← Fabulous Pass!

Note that these passes are for Southern New England and are generally acceptable for the entire Northeast. Put these times on your calendar and set your alarm. After Tuesday’s pass, evening passes of Tianhe-1 will not happen again until early July. For daily passes of both stations, visit the Frosty Drew Satellite Prediction Utility. For ISS pass times specific to your location, visit NASAs Spot the Station.

On Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 7:15 am, the May Full Moon will occur. Called the Full Flower Moon, the May Moon honors the fabulous blooms of late springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. Though 9.5 hours before the Moon reaches the full phase, it will be at the closest point to Earth for its current orbital period (27.3 days). Approaching Earth at 222,021.5 miles distant, the 2021 Flower Moon is also considered a Perigee Syzygy, aka a Supermoon. This Full Moon will be about the same size and brightness as the April Full Pink Moon, and one of the brighter of the year. So step outside either after sunset on the 25th or before sunrise on the 26th and welcome the Full Flower Moon, and have a beautiful spring day.

Scott MacNeill
Scott MacNeill
Entry Date:
May 21, 2021
Published Under:
Scott MacNeill's Columns
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