A lunar eclipse of May’s Flower Moon will grace the skies across some parts of the globe on Friday, coinciding with the peak of the spectacular Eta Aquariid meteor shower.
Meteor showers are celestial events characterized by the appearance of numerous meteors in the sky, which seem to originate from a single point—known as the radiant.
These events occur when the Earth passes through streams of cosmic debris left behind by comets and, in some rare cases, asteroids.
The streaks of light we see in the sky when tiny fragments of space debris burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed are referred to as meteors, or colloquially as shooting stars.
In the case of the Eta Aquariids, this meteor shower is the result of debris left behind by the famous Halley’s Comet entering the Earth’s atmosphere—an event that occurs every year between mid-April and the end of May.
In 2023, the shower is active between April 15 and May 27. It will reach its peak—meaning the time when the most meteors are visible—on the night of May 5-6, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS).
The moon will be 100 percent full tonight, meaning fewer meteors from the shower will be visible compared to an evening with no moonlight.
Nevertheless, the AMS predicts that most observers in mid-northern latitudes will be able to see 10-15 meteors from this shower per hour around the time of the peak. To observe the shower from the Northern Hemisphere, the AMS recommends viewing the event in the last two hours prior to dawn.
While the shower peaks tonight, rates of around 10 meteors per hour should be visible for around a week centered on this date. From May 10 onwards, rates will fall below 10 per hour and decrease further as the month wears on.
The peak of the Eta Aquariids also falls on the same day as a penumbral lunar eclipse, which occurs when the sun, Earth, and the moon are imperfectly aligned. While viewers in the Americas will miss out on the eclipse, you will be able to watch the event live online.
There are three main types of lunar eclipse—total, partial and penumbral—all of which only occur when the moon is full. At these moments, our planet is positioned directly between the sun and the moon in space.
All lunar eclipses occur when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on our natural satellite.
The moon turns full on Friday and this event will be accompanied by a penumbral lunar eclipse. However, the event—or parts of it at least—will only be visible from Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica, as well as the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Ocean regions.
A penumbral lunar eclipse is when the outer, more diffuse part of the Earth’s shadow—known as the “penumbra”—falls onto the visible face of the moon.
During these events, some or all of the moon appears slightly darker than usual for a period of several hours as the penumbra passes over our planet’s natural satellite.
During partial penumbral eclipses, only part of the moon’s surface is covered by the penumbra.
In Friday’s penumbral eclipse, around 95 percent of the moon’s visible face will be covered by the penumbra at the peak of the event.
Lunar eclipses are visible across the entire part of the Earth that is experiencing night time when the event is occurring. This differs to solar eclipses, which can only be seen across a very narrow path from a relatively small region of the planet.
Friday’s eclipse starts at 11:15 a.m. ET and will end at 3:32 p.m. ET—peaking at 1:24 p.m. ET—occurring during the daytime hours in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, skygazers in North America will not be able to see it.
But if you are interested in watching the event, the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP) will be hosting a free live stream.
The stream, which starts at 2:45 p.m. ET on Friday, will show the eclipsed Flower Moon rising above the skyline of the Tuscan countryside in Italy.
The VTP is a service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, that operates and provides access to robotic, remotely-operated telescopes. The stream will only show the last stages of the eclipse.
“In Italy, the moon will rise when the eclipse is about to end, so we will only
be able to cover the last fraction of the event,” Gianluca Masi, an astronomer with the VTP, told Newsweek.
“When the eclipse will be approaching its end, observers should see a pale darkening of the lunar disk, slowly moving to the northwest and leaving the moon,” he said.
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