There's an unusual lunar eclipse coming Jan. 20

  • Star fans observe the sun with experts from the Lake County Astronomical Society at the organization's 2016 Astronomy Day events.

    Star fans observe the sun with experts from the Lake County Astronomical Society at the organization's 2016 Astronomy Day events. Courtesy of Dave Wagner

 
Updated 1/16/2019 6:14 AM

"When will there be another eclipse?' asked a young patron from the Grayslake Area Public Library District.

A spectacular total solar eclipse captivated millions in 2017. Lucky eclipse fans donned their special eye gear and tilted their heads toward the heavens to witness the moon's orbital trek between Earth and the sun, totally blocking the sun from view for seven minutes.

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"Don't worry if you missed the last solar eclipse," Tony Yelk, president of the Lake County Astronomical Society, said encouragingly. "You'll have another chance in a few years. On April 8, 2024, southern Illinois is in the path of totality for another total solar eclipse. This is a terrific opportunity that families can plan for."

Can't wait to see an eclipse?

You're in luck! There's a lunar eclipse Sunday, Jan. 20, which will be visible without the aid of a telescope, as long as the weather cooperates. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth's orbit traverses between the sun and the moon.

Yelk offered these details about the upcoming lunar eclipse, "The eclipse will be visible in all of the United States. The great thing about lunar eclipses is that they can be seen with the naked eye and require no special equipment. Anyone with a clear view of the moon can watch it starting at 9:30 p.m. (CST) with the eclipse reaching its maximum at about 11 p.m. (CST)." Unlike the light speed at which a total solar eclipse occurs -- six to seven minutes -- lunar eclipse totalities are leisurely, lasting an hour or more.

The eclipse scheduled for Sunday has unique features not found in many lunar eclipses. It is a super moon which means it's a fully visible moon when the orbit veers closest to the Earth, and a wolf moon, meaning it's the first moon of the new year, and a blood moon bearing a reddish hue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yelk explains how the moon takes on various color casts: "The red light waves are the ones that can pass through the Earth's atmosphere giving the moon this red coloring." At other times, the moon can look yellow when it is low on the horizon, bright white or silvery when high in the sky, and blue when dust particles are present.

Yelk is a big fan of Saturn, which can be seen in winter just before dawn without a telescope.

"My personal favorite thing to view is the planet Saturn, although Jupiter and its moons are pretty cool too, but something I had wanted to see more than anything was a total solar eclipse. Growing up I'd seen several partial solar eclipses but not a total solar eclipse," he said. He fulfilled his dream in 2017 when the total solar eclipse was visible in much of the U.S., even Illinois.

Even though Sunday's lunar eclipse won't require a telescope for optimal viewing, you might consider setting one up this Sunday for a close look at the changes in the moon's color as the Earth's shadow glides across. You can borrow one from many area libraries.

LCAS has provided telescopes through its LoanStar library telescope program to supplement area library collections. Budding astronomers might also consider attending "Astronomy Under City Lights," monthly events sponsored by LCAS at area libraries. The next event, "Moon Over Highland Park," will be offered at the Highland Park Library from 7-9 p.m. March 13. For more information see the LCAS website www.lcas-astronomy.org.

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