For the first time in more than two years, people living in some parts of Canada will have a chance to view a total eclipse of the moon early on Wednesday morning.
Total lunar eclipses occur whenever the moon passes through the dark, central portion of Earth’s shadow – also called the umbra. Although the moon is cut off from direct sunlight at such times, it does not disappear entirely. Red sunlight, the colour that is most easily refracted by Earth’s atmosphere, can still reach the moon’s surface, lending it a deep, ruddy glow during the total portion of the eclipse.
Coincidentally, the moon will also be at the point in its orbit that brings it nearest to Earth. That means it will appear slightly larger than average while the eclipse is under way. And since the May full moon is also known as a Flower Moon, according to some traditions, Wednesday’s eclipse has been widely dubbed a “super flower blood moon.”
In Canada, the eclipse will be seen best on the West Coast, where the moon first makes contact with the umbra about 2:45 a.m. Pacific Time. Skywatchers on the Prairies will see this at 3:45 a.m. Mountain Time (or 4:45 a.m. Central). In most of Ontario, as well as Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the Arctic, the moon will be below the horizon at this point and so the eclipse will not be visible.
In the West, the total eclipse will begin about 4:11 am PT and last a mere 16 minutes.
“This particular event will be challenging because, even from southern British Columbia, the moon will be very low in the sky as totality begins,” said Gary Seronik, a consulting editor with Sky & Telescope magazine who is based in Penticton, B.C. “The trick will be finding a viewing spot with an unobstructed horizon toward the southwest.”
He added that the position of the moon near the horizon could add some additional red “tinting” to the totally eclipsed lunar disc, increasing the dramatic effect of the colour. At the same time, the moon will only be skimming just inside the umbra rather than plunging straight through it, so it could be brighter and more orange than it appears during some lunar eclipses. Additional uncertainties because of atmospheric conditions mean that the exact appearance of the moon will not be known until the eclipse is under way.
Locations that are much further southwest, including the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and much of Australia, are ideally placed to view the entire event.
The last total lunar eclipse visible anywhere in the world occurred on Jan. 21, 2019. The next one, on Nov. 8, 2022, will similarly favour Western Canada as a viewing location. Easterners will have their next best chance at seeing a total eclipse of the moon from start to finish on March 14, 2025.
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