Lunar eclipse, comet visible this weekend

Posted February 11, 2017

Look up at the sky tonight, and you'll see three phenomena happening at the same time: a comet, Snow Moon, and lunar eclipse will show up starting tonight until tomorrow morning.

While that full moon may be big, bright and attractive, it'll be covered in darkness early in the evening, but only temporarily. A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the moon crosses the Earth's shadow, causing a slight dimming on the moon's lower half.

Tonight's full moon will pass through the outer shadow of the earth, creating a minor eclipse known as a penumbral lunar eclipse. Experts say look east in the constellation Hercules and have your binoculars or telescope handy. During this "full snow moon eclipse", the moon will be completely shaded, making the change easier to see.

The final treat in the weekend's celestial trio of events is the appearance of Comet 45P. It has also been called a "Hunger Moon" by Native Americans because this was a hard time for hunters to find food. The best time will be around 2 a.m. Saturday morning.

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Slooh, a network of observatories, will webcast the snow moon eclipse and comet beginning Friday evening, featuring expert commentary as the moon reaches mid-eclipse. Skygazers who use binoculars or small telescopes should be able to catch the comet's fly-by. If the clouds cooperate, it will be visible with its peak at 5:44 p.m. MST. Friday night, something different will happen, in effect. It will be a close encounter as these things go, passing within some 7 million miles. A few hours later, the bright green comet 45P will shoot past the Earth.

The effect, unlike the red or orange of a full lunar eclipse, means the moon will be just a bit darker than a typical full moon.

Meanwhile, Comet 45P (Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková) will make its closest approach to Earth later in the evening around 2am Central time.

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