The Backyard Astronomer: Tonight's the night for the Full Flower Blood Moon total eclipse

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      Eclipses are awe-inspiring sights that must be seen firsthand.

      In the early morning hours after midnight tonight (May 26), the so-called full Flower Moon will pass into the Earth’s shadow in the first of two lunar eclipses to be seen this year (the other, a partial eclipse, is on November 18). North America is poised to see a varying portion of the May 26 eclipse, depending on where you live (the Maritimes, Quebec, and eastern and half of northern Ontario are out of luck, because the moon will have set before the eclipse begins).

      (The times to view from the West Coast are at the bottom of this column.)

      Eclipses occur as the sun, Earth, and moon are geometrically lined up, but this does not occur every month because of the moon’s slightly tilted orbit as it circles the Earth. However, a few times a year, this lineup rewards us with an eclipse.

      As the moon continues to slip into the Earth’s large dark shadow, it takes on a burnt-orange or copper colour, which is very evident during mid-eclipse, a phase called totality. Commonly referred to as the “blood moon”, people of antiquity saw this as a bad omen of a coming apocalypse or as having some religious meaning.

      Lunar eclipses are very safe to observe and photograph. This dramatic colour change on the lunar surface is the result of sunlight refracting through the Earth’s atmosphere, much as we see during nightly sunsets. If you were on the moon during totality, you would see a beautiful thin orange layer of the Earth’s atmosphere and witness every sunset on the left half of the earth and every sunrise on the right half at the same time.

      A total eclipse of the moon.
      Gary Boyle

      The next lunar eclipse will occur later this year, on November 19, and will be seen from most of Canada in its entirety.

      (Two weeks after the lunar eclipse on June 10, there will be a spectacular sunrise partial solar eclipse observed primarily from the upper eastern part of the continent. [B.C. will be left out for that one.] If the morning is clear, those with solar filters will see the eclipse through distant trees and buildings, which will make for a fantastic photo opportunity. Note: special precautions to prevent eye damage or even blindness must be taken while viewing or photographing solar eclipses. Please educate yourself on the proper use of approved filters or serious harm may result.)

      Lunar eclipse times:


      Moon sets before the eclipse begin.

      Eastern Time
      The partial umbral eclipse begins at 5:44 a.m. Moon already below the horizon for most locations.

      Central Time
      The partial umbral eclipse begins at 4:44 a.m.

      Totality: the moon sets before totality begins.

      Mountain Time
      The partial umbral eclipse begins at 3:44 a.m.

      Totality occurs at moonset.

      Pacific Time
      The partial umbral eclipse begins at 2:44 a.m.

      Totality begins at 4:11 a.m.

      Mid eclipse at 4:18 a.m.

      Totality ends at 4:25 a.m.
      (The moon sets before the end of the partial eclipse.)

      Till next time, clear skies.

      Known as “The Backyard Astronomer”, Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He has been interviewed on more than 50 Canadian radio stations and local Ottawa TV. In recognition of his public outreach in astronomy, the International Astronomical Union has honoured him with the naming of Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or his website: