We don’t often think much about the Moon. Sometimes it’s round and bright; sometimes it’s banana-shaped and softly glowing—it’s just something in the sky that appears in different shapes throughout the month. Every now and then, though, the Moon really grabs our attention. And this Sunday night, you should turn your attention to the sky around 11:00 pm (a little earlier or later is good, too, see below). If there are not too many clouds, you should see the Full Moon. But, do you notice anything different about it? Answer: YES!
This Sunday night, our Moon will pass through the shadow of the Earth, an event known as a lunar eclipse. The Moon enters the darkest part of the shadow, the umbra, at 9:34 pm CST. For a while it may look like someone has taken a bite out of the Moon. Then at 10:41, the Moon will be completely in Earth’s shadow and may start to look really weird. Depending on what’s going on in the Earth’s atmosphere, the shadowed Moon could appear darkish grey to brown to bright orange-red. You should see a very eerie-looking Full Moon until about 11:43 when the Moon begins to exit the Earth’s shadow. By 12:51 am, the Moon will be out of the umbra. Pay attention—this doesn’t happen every month! Usually the Earth does not get in the way of the Sun’s light shining on the Moon, but this month, we’re blocking.
There are many activities and online simulations that demonstrate what’s happening during a lunar eclipse. This article from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has lots of good information on activities you can do with students plus a very nice video to help you understand lunar eclipses. Our own Resource Center has Styrofoam balls and lanterns that you can use to create a kinesthetic model of the Earth-Moon-System that shows how lunar phases and eclipses happen. Just don’t forget to go out Sunday night and see the real thing! No special glasses or other precautions are necessary (unlike during a solar eclipse), and you don’t need a telescope or binoculars. It’s just you, the night sky, and the darkening Moon.