October brings both a lunar and a solar eclipse to viewers in North America. The lunar eclipse will be in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8th when the moon is in its full phase. Two weeks later when the moon is new, we can see a partial solar eclipse in the late afternoon of October 23rd.
Eclipses, both lunar and solar, occur when the Earth, the sun, and the moon all fall on the same straight line. In a lunar eclipse, the Earth lies between the sun and the moon, and its shadow falls on the moon. DIAGRAM IS NOT TO SCALE!
For observers on the east coast of the U.S., the full moon will be setting in the west as the eclipse begins at 5:15 am EDT. This is when you will first notice the Earth’s shadow beginning to take a “bite” out of the fully illuminated moon, which will then be roughly 25° above the horizon in Lynchburg. When totality begins (the moon is completely within the Earth’s shadow) at 6:25 am EDT, the moon will only be about 10° above the horizon. The end of totality and the setting of the moon set are at the same time: 7:24 am EDT. Here is how to estimate angular distance using your outstretched arm:
Does the moon go completely dark during totality? If the Earth were an airless rock, it would. But the Earth’s atmosphere refracts (bends) light so that some of it falls on the moon’s surface even in a total lunar eclipse. Red light is the most highly refracted, and the term “blood moon” references this. The actual color can range from rather bright orange to a deep red and depends both on the exact Earth-moon geometry and on whatever might be in the Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse. Volcanic eruptions can make for rather dark moons during totality.
The farther west you are, the higher the moon will be in your sky. Folks on the west coast of the U.S. will need to get up earlier, but they will be able to see the moon much higher in the sky during totality.
Two weeks later the sun, moon, and Earth line up to create a solar eclipse. Again, the diagram is not to scale.
This will be a partial (not total) solar eclipse, with only part of the sun’s surface blocked out by the moon. And just as the moon was setting for east coast observers two weeks ago, so will the sun be setting for this eclipse. For Lynchburg, maximum eclipse and sunset are at about the same time: 6:20 pm and 6:30 pm EDT respectively. Again, folks farther west have a better view.
It cannot be stated often enough: DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! Only filters specifically designed for solar viewing (most definitely NOT ordinary sunglasses) should be used. Far better is an indirect projection device you can easily make yourself with a gum wrapper and a white sheet of paper.
Let’s hope Lynchburg’s notorious weather is kind to us!