FAIRBANKS — For the first time in several years, Fairbanks residents will have the opportunity to see — or not see, rather — the totality of a lunar eclipse.
The full moon will rise in the southeastern sky about 9:45 p.m. tonight and begin its march across the southern sky. As the moon rises, it will be partially enshrouded in the penumbra.
The penumbral phase, also known as a partial eclipse, is the first part of the total lunar eclipse process, in which the sun’s light is refracted through the earth’s atmosphere. This refraction causes the moon’s surface to dim from bright white to a gray.
The highlight of today’s show will come later in the evening when the moon passes through the umbral phase and becomes fully blocked by the earth’s shadow. The umbral phase is considered a total eclipse, and during this phase the moon takes on a dark red or copper color.
The moon will enter the umbral phase, or “totality,” shortly after 11 p.m. and will continue in that phase for about 75 minutes, pulling back into the penumbral phase at about 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Lunar eclipses last much longer than their solar counterparts, which typically last only about five minutes.
Martin Gutoski, the president of local astronomy club Fairbanks Astronomical Unit, has been observing events in the night sky for several decades. He said tonight’s lunar show should be the best observable in Fairbanks since 2011, but will occur later in the evening this time.
Fairbanks Astronomical Unit often holds events to gather and watch ethereal events. It held an event in 2011 at Creamers Field, but Gutoski doesn’t think the unit will gather with much fanfare this year because of the late hour of the eclipse.
For those who do want to watch the show, though, Gutoski suggested two good locations near Fairbanks — Chena Pump Wayside and the Tanana River levee. Both areas have relatively unobstructed views of the southeastern sky.
Mars, which currently rests relatively close to earth, should be visible about 9 degrees to the upper right of the moon during the lunar event and should be especially visible as the moon dims, according to Gutoski. Also benefiting from the moon’s weakened glow will be Spica, one of the brightest stars visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
Spica can be found by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, and continuing to follow that arc a somewhat equal distance to Spica.
More information on the upcoming lunar eclipse and other eclipses this year can be found online at eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2014.html.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.