The biggest astronomical news of the month is the total lunar eclipse on May 15-16. Totality begins at 11:29 PM and ends at 12:54 AM. The partial eclipse begins at 10:15 p.m. and ends when the total eclipse begins. A partial eclipse also begins at the end of a total eclipse, ends at 12:54 a.m. and ends at 2:10 a.m.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon enters Earth’s shadow. Because the sun has dimension and is not a point light source, it creates a “front” shadow: a penumbra.
As the moon enters the penumbra, it slowly turns gray from the left side of the moon. Sometimes it’s hard to see this at first, but it becomes obvious when half of it is covered.
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The deep shadow is called the umbra and is about three moon diameters. When the moon fully enters the umbra, we get a total eclipse.
Some people refer to a total lunar eclipse as a “blood moon.” This is because Earth’s atmosphere refracts the sun’s light, making the moon red.
Because the longer light waves scatter last, the light turns red. For the same reason that sunrises and sunsets are red. Depending on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere, the moon can appear dark red or orange.
Morning sky. Throughout the month, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the east before sunrise. Watch them chasing and passing each other.
Evening sky. Mercury will appear low to the west after sunset in early May, but enter the sun’s bright light in the middle of the month. Binoculars or a small telescope will help to see the swift planet.
1st. Venus and Jupiter are really close. You can see both planets at the same time with low power in a small telescope or with binoculars.
2nd. The Thin Moon, Mercury, and the Pleaides star cluster form a line in the west after sunset. Binoculars or telescopes will help.
6th: Watch the first-quarter moon at Cascades Park from 8:30-10 p.m. The Moon and Gemini’s bright stars Pollux and Castor form a line in the night sky.
7th. Astronomy Day. TAS will be setting up sunglasses outside the Challenger Learning Center from 9 a.m. to noon.
7th. The Tallahassee Astronomical Society hosts a free planetarium show, “May Sky in Tallahassee” (not recommended for children under 5), at the Challenger Learning Center’s Downtown Digital Dome Theater and Planetarium. Closes promptly at 10am.
7th. Watch the first-quarter moon at Cascades Park from 8:30 to 10 p.m., above the Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer.
9th. The Moon in the first quarter is near Regulus in Leo.
13th. The moon is near the bright star Spica in Virgo.
15-16. Total lunar eclipse. Totality starts at 11:29 PM and ends at 12:54 AM.
16th. The full moon is above the bright star Antas in the constellation Scorpio.
22nd. The last quarter of the month is below Saturn.
24th. The moon is close to Mars and Jupiter.
25th.The Moon is below Mars and Jupiter.
26th. The moon is to the right of Venus.
27th. The moon is to the left of Venus.
29th. Mars and Jupiter are very close.
30 days. new moon.
Ken Kopczynski is president of the Tallahassee Astronomical Society, a local group of amateur astronomers.
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