Triple treat: Eclipse, comet, full moon all coming Friday night

Skywatchers will enjoy a rare space triple-header Friday night and early Saturday morning: A "penumbral" lunar eclipse during the full "snow" moon — and the flyby of a comet.

Here's a look at what you will see if you set your eyes to the night sky:

Penumbral lunar eclipse

Eagle-eyed skywatchers will see a "penumbral" lunar eclipse Friday evening during the full moon.

Not as spectacular — or noticeable — as a total lunar eclipse, this rather subtle phenomenon occurs when the moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow (known as the penumbra), according to EarthSky.org.

The outer shadow of the Earth blocks part — but not all — of the sun's rays from reaching the moon, making it appear slightly darker than usual.

The 'Great American Eclipse' is a year from today
The exact moment of the penumbral eclipse is 7:43 p.m. ET (6:43 p.m. CT, 5:43 p.m. MT and 4:43 p.m. PT), NASA said.

The eclipse will be visible from Europe, Africa, western Asia and eastern North and South America, NASA reports.

About 35% of all eclipses are of the penumbral type.

Full "snow" moon

As required during any lunar eclipse, the moon will be full Friday night. And this month it's nicknamed the "snow" moon.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, full moon names date back to Native Americans in the northern and eastern U.S. Each full moon has its own name.

"The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon," the almanac reports. "Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred."

Calling February's full moon the "snow" moon is right on target: On average, February is the USA's snowiest month, according to data from the National Weather Service.

The Farmer's Almanac reports some tribes referred to February's moon as the "hunger" moon, because harsh weather conditions made hunting difficult.

Comet 45P

A few hours after the eclipse, Comet 45P, which has been visible after sunset for the past two months through binoculars and telescopes, makes its closest approach to Earth, when it will be "only" 7.4 million miles away, NASA said.

Look to the east around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, where it will be visible in the sky in the constellation Hercules. Binoculars or a telescope could be helpful. Watch for a bright blue-green "head" with a tail.

It will be visible in various points of the night sky until the end of February, according to NASA. If you miss it, don't worry: It will return again in 2022, said Jane Houston Jones of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.




Eclipse, full moon and a comet to occur at the same time and light up the night sky in rare event

A beautiful, shining comet flying through the sky is a rare thing. But this week it's not even going to be the rarest.

Friday night wll in fact see that comet – a green, shining light followed by a purple trail, known as 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková – joined by a bright, shining full "snow moon" and a lunar eclipse, all at the same time.

Starting early Friday evening, a penumbral lunar eclipse will begin. That means that the sun, moon and earth all line up and cast a strange effect on the moon.

Unlike a total eclipse – where the earth blots out all light on the moon, casting it into a dark shadow – this week's will be more subtle. Our closest neighbour will gradually darken as the three objects move around.

The eclipse will be best seen in Europe or Africa and will begin no Friday evening. It might not even be noticeable without intently looking, since its effects are so subtle.

But the moon itself will be remarkable, even if you can't see the eclipse. Dubbed the "snow moon" – because February is the snowiest month – it will be full and bright and the sky will be lit up bright through Friday night.

But probably most notable is the comet itself, which will shoot past close enough to be visible from earth. The comet is a bright emerald green, probably a result of the evaporation of diatomic carbon as it flies through space. And it is marked out by a bright purple tail – but it might actually have lost that since it last flew past us, astronomers say, probably the result of a brush with Venus that led it to burn off the ice core that creates it.

None of the events will be quite as spectacular as the huge total solar eclipse that will be visible across the US on 21 August. That will be the first time such an event has happened in 99 years, and may see the biggest movement of people ever.


How to Watch a Full Moon, Lunar Eclipse and Comet Light Up the Sky on Friday

February blues got you down? This time of year can seem dreary when temperatures drop and the sun sets early. But this Friday, nature is giving everyone an excuse to get out of the house and appreciate its wonders.
Friday will feature a full moon, a lunar eclipse and a green comet sighting — all on the same night, Weather reports.

The festivities start early Friday evening with February’s full moon, called the Snow Moon. This nickname comes from Native Americans who used the moons as a way to track the seasons, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Instead of seeing a traditional round circle lighting up the sky, people will observe a penumbral eclipse, when the moon, sun and Earth align to create a subtle shadow, according to EarthSky. Penumbral eclipses can be difficult to see because they are less dramatic than a total or partial eclipse. But this one will likely appear as a dark shading across the moon’s surface, EarthSky reports.

People who live on the east coast will first be able to see the Earth’s shadow around 5:32 p.m., according to Space. The moon will grow dimmer over the next few hours and the eclipse will peak at 7:43 p.m. EST. It should take another two hours for the moon to get back to normal, and by 9:55 p.m. you can expect the moon to be completely outside Earth’s shadow.

In other parts of North America and the western part of South America, the eclipse will reach its peak before the full moon has risen. In East Asia, observers may miss part of the eclipse because the eclipse will peak while the moon is setting there. But regardless of where you watch from, the middle of the eclipse time will be the most interesting, according to Sky & Telescope magazine.

Anyone who wants to stay up extra late can catch the third event on Friday, which consists of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková — also known as the New Year comet — streaking by the Earth. It will be visible just before dawn on Saturday, according to Weather, but you’ll likely want binoculars to get a good look.The comet, which was discovered in 1948, will be the closest it’s been to Earth since 2011. But never fear, if you miss out this time or just want more space sights, there will be another comet known as C/2015 ER61 visible in April through mid-May, according to Sky & Telescope.

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