Get ready for the Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse: Here's when
Sunday, January 28, 2018, 15:22 - It may be cold outside, but there are still some sights in the night sky this winter that shouldn't be missed! Here's the top three skywatching events for the coming season, and a few extras to keep your eye out for, as well.
Winter isn't the easiest time of year to stargaze, but it can be the most rewarding time.
The cold winter air often presents the best viewing of the night sky, compared to other seasons, as the air tends to be drier and more stable. Through a telescope or binoculars, stars, planets and the Moon appear crisper and cleaner, as their light encounters less turbulence in the air before it reaches us. Even with the unaided eye, the drier air reflects back less of the light pollution produced by our urban centres, so our skies tend to be darker, allowing us to see more stars, and more meteors during the annual meteor showers.
So, stay warm when you head out to go skywatching this coming season, and don't miss these great events.
Dec 21-22 - Usrid meteor shower peak (10-30 meteors per hour)
Jan 1-2 - 2018's Perigee Full Moon
Jan 3-4 - Quadrantid meteor shower peak (short peak of up to 120 meteors per hour)
• Jan 30-31 - Super Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse (watch the video above for the science behind this spectacle)
• Jan 7 to March 17 - Several planetary conjunctions, including a persistent planetary alignment
• Early Feb and early March - The Zodiacal Light is visible in the western sky after twilight
Morning of January 31 - Super Blue Moon Lunar Eclipse
This is one event that's worth getting up extra early for!
The Full Moon on the night of January 30-31 is not only a supermoon, the second largest and second brightest Full Moon of 2018, but it's also a Blue Moon, since it's the 2nd Full Moon in the month of January (February has no Full Moon this year).
The path of the Full Moon through Earth's dim grey penumbral shadow and the deep red umbra, on the morning of Jan 31, 2018. Credit: Scott Sutherland
On top of that, much of the United States will get to see a Total Lunar Eclipse in the early morning hours of January 31, as the Moon slips through Earth's shadow.
The true definition of a Blue Moon is "the third Full Moon in a season with four Full Moons" (typically, seasons have three Full Moons). Thus, technically, the next true Blue Moon will be on May 18, 2019, since that will be the third Full Moon of the four Full Moons of spring that year.
Using Blue Moon to describe the second Full Moon in a calendar month is based on a mistake, but is still a popular definition, just as the term "supermoon" has caught on to describe a Full Moon that happens close to when the Moon is near its closest point to Earth in its orbit, despite it being a fairly arbitrary astrological term.
Regardless of how you define this particular Full Moon, much of Canada will get to see a Total Lunar Eclipse in the early morning hours of January 31, as the Moon slips through Earth's shadow.
The timing of the eclipse, across the U.S., is detailed in the image above.
Other notable skywatching events
Planetary and Lunar Conjunctions
Planets are among the brightest objects in our night sky, with some easily seen even under the worst light pollution conditions. Seeing one planet is noteworthy enough. Catching two or more in the sky is remarkable. Seeing two (or possibly more) that are very close together - a conjunction - is extremely cool.
This winter, we will be treated to an extremely close conjunction of Mars and Jupiter - which will appear so close as to be touching - a triangle of Mars, Jupiter and the Moon, a fairly persistent line of Saturn, Mars and Jupiter (with the occassional visit from the Moon), and a sunset pairing of Venus and Mercury.
The numerous planetary conjunctions of Winter 2017-18. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland
• Feb 7 - Jupiter and the Moon, with Saturn and Mars
• Feb 9 - Mars and the Moon, with Saturn and Jupiter
• Feb 11 - Saturn and the Moon, with Mars and Jupiter
• March 7 - Jupiter and the Moon, with Saturn and Mars
• March 10 - Saturn, Mars and the Moon in a triangle, with Jupiter nearby
• March 12 - The Moon, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in a lineup
• March 17 - Mercury and Venus along the western horizon, just after sunset
The Zodiacal light
Twice this winter, skywatchers will have a chance to see the immense cloud of interplanetary dust that encircles the Sun, which manifests in our night sky as "The Zodiacal Light".
In the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's 2018 Observer's Handbook, Dr. Roy Bishop, Emeritus Professor of Physics from Acadia University, wrote:
The zodiacal light appears as a huge, softly radiant pyramid of white light with its base near the horizon, and its axis centred on the zodiac (or better, the ecliptic). In its brightest parts, it exceeds the luminance of the central Milky Way.
According to Dr. Bishop, event though this phenomenon can be quite bright, it can easily be spoiled by moonlight, haze or light pollution. Also, since it is best viewed just after twilight, the inexperienced sometimes confused it for twilight, and thus miss out.
On clear nights, and under dark skies, look to the western horizon, in the half an hour just after twilight has faded, from about February 2-15, and March 5-18.