Harvest Moon will shine more dimly during lunar eclipse

This Friday’s Harvest Moon, on 16 September 2016, will rise looking dimmer than usual over Europe and Africa because it will be undergoing a lunar eclipse.

Moon in penumbra
This photo of the Moon within the Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra, was taken during the prelude to last September’s total lunar eclipse, using a Canon EOS 600D attached to a Lightwave 66mm refracting telescope. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

The eclipse will be enough to reduce the Full Moon’s usual brilliant glare, but it will not go deep red, as it does during a total lunar eclipse. That only happens at a total eclipse, when Earth blocks out the whole Sun, putting the Moon completely in shadow.

Instead, the Moon will be passing through the outer part of the Earth’s shadow, or umbra – a region known as the penumbra. This penumbral shadow is lighter because it is cast where the Earth is only partly blocking out the Sun. If you were able to stand on the Moon, you would see a partial eclipse of the Sun. It will still be an event that amateur astronomers won’t want to miss.

Here is our full guide to eclipses of the Moon.

Clear skies willing, this week’s eclipse can also be seen by stargazers in India and the Far East, as well as Australia and New Zealand, where it occurs before moonset. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to view it, though it will be a good opportunity to observe the features making up the face of the “Man in the Moon” without so much glare.

Eclipse graphic
Stages of the lunar eclipse as the Moon passes through the Earth’s outer shadow. The rest of the shadow in space is not visible. Image credit: Skymania

Unfortunately for observers in North and most of South America, the eclipse will be over by the time the Moon rises there. Only the eastern part of Brazil will catch the end of the eclipse at moonrise.

The eclipse begins when the Moon starts to enter the penumbra at 16.55 UT. Mid eclipse occurs at 18.54 UT, and it all ends when the trailing edge of the Moon leaves the Earth’s outer shadow at 20.54 UT.

If you enjoy amateur astronomy, then don’t forget to check out our guide to what else you can see in this month’s night sky.


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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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