A lunar eclipse will darken the moon on Wednesday

Earth’s shadow will obscure part of the moon on Wednesday morning (March 23) during a lunar eclipse that will be visible from much of the globe, including central and western North America.

But don’t get too excited, sky watchers. Wednesday’s lunar eclipse is penumbral, so the effect will be subtle and subdued compared to the impressive “blood moons“caused by total lunar eclipses.

This can be noticeable for just a few minutes around 7.47am.

The Earth’s shadow is made up of two parts: the dark inner shadow and a weak outer part called penumbra. As the term suggests, penumbral eclipses involve the moon dipping into penumbra (but moving away from shadow). Weather permitting, well-positioned observers watching closely Wednesday morning should be able to see the lower parts of the moon take on a smeared appearance.

The penumbral lunar eclipse will last 4 hours and 15 minutes on Wednesday, but it will only be noticeable for a few minutes around 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT), the time of the greatest eclipse, Espace.com sky observation chronicler Joe Rao wrote in our guide to lunar eclipses Last week.

Map showing the regions from which the lunar penumbral lunar eclipse of March 23, 2016, will be visible, weather permitting.
Credit: Fred Espenak / NASA GSFC

People in central and western North America are well positioned to witness the greatest eclipse, but people in eastern parts of the continent will miss it; by then the moon will have already set from their point of view.

Observers from across the Pacific Ocean region, New Zealand, Japan and eastern Australia will be able to see the entire penumbral lunar eclipse, and sky observers from East Asia and central will assist in part. But Africa and Europe will be completely excluded, Rao wrote.

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon plunges into the shadow of the Earth, during the full phase of the satellite. But eclipses don’t happen every month, because the moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly out of the plane.
with the trajectory of the planet around the sun.

When the moon, earth, and sun align perfectly, the result is a total lunar eclipse. Partial and penumbral eclipses occur when the alignment is slightly shifted.

The next two lunar eclipses – in September 2016 and February 2017 – will be penumbral type, and a partial eclipse will follow in August 2017. The next total lunar eclipse will not take place until January 2018. (The last one occurred in September 2015.)

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