For October, it’s a tale of two eclipses: an early-morning total lunar eclipse and a late-afternoon partial solar eclipse.
Get up before the sunrise for the total lunar eclipse on Wednesday morning. With clear skies, you’ll see a reddish moon. It’s safe to watch a lunar eclipse, since the Earth stands between the sun and moon, and we’ll watch our own planet’s shadow cross the surface of the moon.
The partial phase starts at about 5:15 a.m., when that Earth shadow begins encroaching the lunar surface — or enters the umbra, according to Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory. As the partial phase turns into the full eclipse phase, the moon will turn a noticeable red shade.
At 6:25 a.m., the full lunar eclipse starts, but it will be low on the western horizon, so be sure to find a good view of that part of the heavens. The middle of the eclipse happens at 6:54 a.m., but the sky will have started to lighten as sunrise (in the eastern sky) occurs at 7:11 a.m., and the moon sets at 7:16 a.m. in the west.
This event is the second of four total lunar eclipses in a row — and that’s called a tetrad. We had one last April and we get two more in 2015.
This lunar eclipse is part of Saros 127, which is a family or series of eclipses. The last lunar eclipse in this saros was Sept. 27, 1996 and the next will be Oct. 18, 2032.
The Washington area can see a partial solar eclipse — where our moon steps in front of the sun — at day’s end on Thursday, Oct. 23. Never look at the sun or a partial eclipse directly, and never use unfiltered binoculars or an unfiltered telescope to see the sun.
The partial solar eclipse will be in progress as the sun heads toward the horizon. With a good, western horizon view, we may see the eclipse begin at about 5:51 p.m., according to Chester. The moon and sun set concurrently at 6:19 p.m. “We’ll get to see about 28 minutes of partiality,” he says.
This eclipse is part of Saros 153, a young series that started in 1870 and will last until the year 3114.
Jupiter rises in the east-northeast before 3 a.m. early in October in the Cancer constellation. The gassy giant planet loiters at a -1.9 magnitude (bright) now and gets slightly more luminous by month’s end. In the middle of October, it rises at 2 a.m., and around 1 a.m. when the month ends.
Worth noting, Comet Siding Spring has a close encounter as it passes within about 82,000 to 89,000 miles of the red planet Mars on Oct. 19. The comet will be at about 10th magnitude (unable to view with the naked eye,) but you can see it live online at slooh.com, on Oct. 19, starting at 10:51 a.m. EDT. Comet Siding Spring reaches perihelion, its closest point to sun, on Oct. 25.
●Oct. 5 — “Pulsars: How Electricity Lets the Stellar Undead Live Again!” – a talk by astronomer Andrey Timokhin, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. Weather permitting, see the heavens after the lecture. astro.umd.edu/openhouse
●Oct. 6 — “Stars Tonight,” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 7:30 p.m. $3. friendsoftheplanetarium.org
● Oct. 11 — Go discover a planetary birthplace! Physicist Marc Kuchner, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, discusses his “Disk Detective” citizen science project at the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org
● Oct. 12 — “Supermassive Black Holes,” a talk by astronomer Shobita Satyapal, George Mason University professor of physics and astronomy, at the regular meeting of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, Room 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com
●Oct. 18 — Find out about the universe and how it was all created at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/
●Oct. 18 — From the heart of the city, the glorious autumnal heavens at “Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers, at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org
●Oct. 18 — Explore the night sky with Sean O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum and the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club at Sky Meadows State Park near Paris, Va. Parking $5. Arrive before dark. 6-9 p.m. Park phone: 540-592-3556. alturl.com/u5c6j
●Oct. 20 — “3-2-1 Landing: Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Here We Come,” a talk by astronomer Lori Feaga, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. Weather permitting, sky viewing afterward. astro.umd.edu/openhouse
Blaine Friedlander can be reached at PostSkyWatch@gmail.com