Flint River Astronomy Club hosts lunar eclipse viewing

Dr. William Warren :::

Special Contributor to The Grip

On Sunday evening, Sept. 27, weather permitting, you can see one of nature’s most stunning and beautiful displays – a total lunar eclipse. It will last from 8:40 p.m. until 12:55 a.m., but the best time to watch it will be from 9:07 p.m. until 12:27 a.m.

Members of the Flint River Astronomy Club will offer a free public observing of the event via their telescopes and binoculars at The University of Georgia Research and Education Garden, UGA-Griffin’s agricultural headquarters.

Gates will be open from 8 p.m.. until 12:30 a.m. and the eclipse will last from 8:40 p.m to 12:55 a.m., but the best time to watch will be from 9:07 through 12:27 a.m. The public is cordially invited to attend this spectacular display.

Lunar eclipses occur when, in the course of orbiting the sun, the Earth moves into a position directly between the sun and the moon, blocking sunlight from reaching the lunar surface for a few hours.

It happens between two and five times a year, always during a full moon, and most of them are partial eclipses, not total. We do not see all of those eclipses for a variety of reasons.

The total lunar eclipse on Sept. 27 will be special, and not just because the entire moon will undergo dramatic color changes while it is immersed in Earth’s shadows.

On that date, the moon will reach its perigee, or closest point to the Earth in its orbit, while the eclipse is in progress. As a result, the moon will be 13 percent larger than it was during the last total lunar eclipse on April 27. It will be the largest eclipse you will ever see.

Total lunar eclipses consist of five stages, the first and last of which are barely noticeable.

First, there is the penumbral phase, in which Earth’s fainter outer shadow, or penumbra, will begin to cross the moon’s face at 8:40 p.m. You will not notice it until it is about halfway across it, at which time the moon’s left side will begin to darken slightly.

At 9:07 p.m., the second stage, or partial eclipse, will commence, and that is when the fun starts. This portion of the eclipse will look like something large is ever-so-slowly nibbling away at the lunar surface and changing its color. This phase marks the point where the moon enters Earth’s dark inner shadow, or umbra.

The moon will continue to darken and change color as that shadow gradually expands across the lunar face until, at 10:11 p.m., the third stage (totality) begins. At that point, the entire moon will be engulfed in reddish or orange shadow. Totality will last for an hour and 12 minutes.

At 11:23 p.m., the moon will reverse the process and begin moving out of the darker umbral shadow, marking the fourth stage: another partial eclipse. The moon’s edge will reappear, bathed in sunlight that continues to expand until the shadow is completely gone by 12:27 p.m.

By then, the moon will be full again, and all that will be left of the eclipse is the faint penumbral shadow that marked the beginning of the eclipse.

The best advice is go outside around 9 p.m. to watch the partial eclipse begin, and watch it grow until the moon reaches totality shortly after 10 p.m. After that, stay outside until you have seen enough, then call it a night.

Additional helpful advice: don’t forget to use insect repellent. Sit in a reclining lawn chair, not a straight-back chair. Use binoculars or a telescope if you have them; it will greatly enhance your appreciation of what you are seeing. In addition, while it will still be hot during the daytime in late September, the temperature will drop before the eclipse begins, so have a blanket or warm clothing available in case you need it.

For information on the Flint River Astronomy Club, please contact Dr. William Warren, its vice president, at warren7804@bellsouth.net.

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