According to folklore, the Harvest Moon is the full Moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox, the hectic beginning of northern autumn. In 2015, the Moon is full on Sept. 28th, less than a week after the equinox of Sept. 23rd. The coincidence sets the stage for a nice display of harvest moonlight.
But wait. This year’s Harvest Moon is not like the others. It’s going to be eclipsed.
On the night of Sept. 27 and into the early hours of Sept. 28, the full Moon will glide through the shadow of Earth, turning the Harvest Moon a golden-red color akin to autumn leaves.
The action begins at 9:07 PM Eastern Time on the evening of Sept 27th when the edge of the Moon first enters the amber core of Earth’s shadow. For the next three hours and 18 minutes, Earth’s shadow will move across the lunar disk.
Totality begins at 10:11 PM Eastern Time. That’s when the Moon is completely enveloped by the shadow of our planet. Totality lasts for an hour and 12 minutes so there is plenty of time to soak up the suddenly-red moonlight.The reason the Moon turns red may be found on the surface of the Moon itself. Using your imagination, fly to the Moon and stand inside a dusty lunar crater. Look up. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside facing you, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway.
You might suppose that the Earth overhead would be completely dark. After all, you’re looking at the nightside of our planet. Instead, something amazing happens. When the sun is located directly behind Earth, the rim of the planet seems to catch fire! The darkened terrestrial disk is ringed by every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all at once. This light filters into the heart of Earth’s shadow, suffusing it with a coppery glow.
Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon becomes a great red orb.
One more thing: The full Moon of Sept. 28th occurs near the perigee of the Moon’s orbit—that is, the point closest to Earth. This makes the Harvest Moon a “supermoon.”
The super Harvest Moon eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Europe, and Africa. It brings an end to a remarkable series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses visible from North America—a so-called “tetrad.” Perhaps the heavens have saved the best for last.
If you live in the eclipse zone, mark your calendar for Sept. 27-28, and enjoy the show.
If you happen to live in Finland, check out the detailed super Harvest Moon eclipse schedule courtesy of Ursa Astronomical Association.
Comet ISON is now visible to the naked eye. It brightened dramatically on Wednesday night as it drew closer to to the sun.
ISON is expected to keep brightening over the next few weeks – and could become a once-in-a-century comet so bright that it can be seen during the daytime. It all depends on whether it survives its close approach to the sun, when the searing heat and intense gravity could tear it to pieces.
Fingers crossed and good luck ISON, I can’t even handle 20 minutes in the sun.
Image: Mike Hankey/mikesastrophotos.com