Night skies treat stargazers to penumbral lunar eclipse, snow moon, comet on Friday

Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 08, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Friday night is going to be a busy one in the sky as several celestial events coincide. A lunar eclipse, the full moon (called the "snow moon") and a comet will all be visible overnight Friday into Saturday morning.

First, a penumbral lunar eclipse will begin around sunset Friday night. This type of eclipse is different from the typical lunar eclipses that get stargazers excited. The Earth casts two types of shadows onto the moon’s surface: the outer (penumbra) and inner (umbra) shadows.

The outer shadow is what will be cast on the moon this time, so it will not be as dark of a shadow on the moon’s surface as what we are used to seeing when we speak about lunar eclipses. The penumbra will only block some of the sun’s rays from making it to the moon’s surface. This means the surface of the moon will only be slightly darker than normal as opposed to a total or partial eclipse when the moon passes through the umbra, or inner shadow.

Look for the eclipse to begin around 6 p.m. Friday. The maximum part of the eclipse, when the moon will be most covered by the sun’s outer shadow, will occur around 7:43 p.m. The eclipse will end around 9:53 p.m.

The end of the eclipse will lead us into the next lunar event of the night, the snow moon! The snow moon is just another full moon, but because it occurs here in February, it has the name snow moon. It was given the name snow moon by Native American tribes who named moons based on in which month they occurred. Also, according to the National Weather Service, February is typically the snowiest month here in the United States.

The third celestial event that you may be able to see occurs early Saturday around 3 a.m. Comet 45P will make its closest approach to our planet as it orbits by us. Expect it to be roughly 7.4 million miles away. That means you should be able to see it with binoculars or a telescope. Look to the east for the constellation Hercules. You should be able to see the comet as it will have a distinct blue-green head along with a wispy tail.

According to NASA, the comet won’t be visible again until it returns in 2022.