Stargazers will have the chance to see the first lunar eclipse of the decade tonight as the outer shadow of the Earth passes over the Wolf Moon
- 2020 set to start with an amazing celestial display with a penumbral eclipse
- A penumbral eclipse happens when the Sun, Moon and Earth align imperfectly
- It will be best viewed in Europe, Africa and Western Asia from 22:00 GMT
Stargazers will have the chance to see the first lunar eclipse of the decade tonight as the outer shadow of the Earth passes over the full Wolf Moon.
It won’t be an obvious change as it is a ‘penumbral eclipse’ – this is where the diffuse outer shadow of the Earth falls on the Moon’s face.
Unlike a total or partial eclipse where all or part of the Moon is obscured, the only visible change will be a dark shading across the natural satellite.
The phenomenon will begin at about 17:00 GMT and is expected to end at about 21:00 GMT although is likely only visible at the mid-point around 19:00 GMT.
It will be most obviously visible in Europe, Africa and Western Asia and can be seen in the east-northeast sky, astronomers confirmed.
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The moon during the peak of a penumbral eclipse pictured in Pakistan in 2017 – the best place to view the eclipse is in Europe, Africa and Western Asia
Bonnie Diamond, a spokesperson for the Met Office, said ‘lovely clear skies’ are expected for south-east England in the evening.
But she added skies may be cloudier in the western parts of the country, with heavy rain expected across northern Ireland and Scotland in the late afternoon.
There are between two and five lunar eclipses per year and approximately a third of them will be a penumbral eclipse, say astronomers.
The penumbra eclipses happen when the Sun, Moon and Earth are imperfectly aligned, causing the outer shadow of the earth (penumbra) to cast over the moon.
This also blocks the sun meaning parts of the light cannot reflect onto the moons surface, making it appear darker in the sky.
‘Since the penumbra is much fainter than the dark core of the Earth’s shadow, the umbra, a penumbral eclipse of the Moon is often difficult to tell apart from a normal Full Moon’, according to Time and Date.
There are three types of lunar eclipse: partial, total and penumbral and each occurs about a third of the time, according to experts.
A total eclipse is where the inner part of the Earth’s shadow (the umbra) lands on the face of the satellite and at the half way point the entire moon is in shadow.
A partial eclipse is where the umbra takes a chunk out of the moon, getting larger as it passes across the face – but never enough to completely obscure it completely.
For a penumbral eclipse to occur the Moon has to be full and the Sun, Earth and Moon must all be ‘nearly’ aligned but not as close as they would during a partial eclipse.
The best chance of seeing the eclipse will be at the exact mid-point when the Moon will appear to be slightly darker than usual – although nearly indistinguishable from a normal full Moon.
It won’t be an obvious change as it is a penumbral eclipse which is where the diffuse outer shadow of the Earth falls on the Moon’s face
It is impossible to observe the start and end of a penumbral eclipse without a telescope, according to Time and Date.
‘We won’t see the same dramatic dimming and reddening visible during a total lunar eclipse’, said Ed Bloomer, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
‘Unfortunately, we won’t get one of those until 2021, though there are another three penumbral eclipses to look forward to in 2020.’
All four lunar eclipses in 2020 will penumbral, with the others happening in June, July and November. However they won’t all be as visible as January’s.
The next total lunar eclipse won’t be until May 2021 but there will be an annual and total solar eclipse this year.
The annual eclipse will be in June and the total coverage will happen in December.
The January full Moon is called a Wolf Moon because it is when the wolf packs were said to first emerge after a long winter in native American culture.
The next full moon will occur on February 9, which is also known as snow moon.
WHAT IS A LUNAR ECLIPSE?
An eclipse occurs any time a planet or moon passes between another planet, moon or the sun.
Depending on their orbits, they can be total or partial.
A lunar eclipse is a specific event which happens when Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon.
When this happens, Earth blocks the light from the sun to the moon. Earth’s shadow then falls on the moon.
During a lunar eclipse, we can see Earth’s shadow on the moon.
They can last for several hours, but it is rare for a period of total eclipse to last longer than 100 minutes.
At least two lunar eclipses happen every year.
The moon will also be slightly closer to the Earth, causing it to appear brighter than usual, dubbed a Super Moon. These unique factors, when combined, result in a ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon’. This graphic shows how a lunar eclipse occurs