BOSTON (CBS) – Wanna get away? Need a break from the snow talk for a few minutes?
How does a full moon, comet and lunar eclipse sound?
With all the blizzard hoopla, this rare combination of astronomical events has gone somewhat unnoticed, but it is happening today!
How do you see it all, and more importantly CAN you see it all?
FULL “SNOW” MOON
The aptly named snow moon will be full Friday night at precisely 7:33 p.m. and will begin to rise above the horizon just after 5 p.m.
PENUMBRAL LUNAR ECLIPSE
At the same time, the moon will be passing through the Earth’s shadow – sort of.
In order to get a full-fledged lunar eclipse where the moon actually disappears, you need a perfect alignment with the sun, Earth and moon. We don’t quite have that tonight.
Instead of passing through the “umbra,” the actual shadow of the Earth, tonight the moon will be passing through the “penumbra” – think of it as the outer region of the shadow of the Earth, more of a dusky area rather than dark.
Anyhow, the moon will be within the penumbra for about 4-to-5 hours tonight, entering around 5:30 p.m. and exiting just before 10 p.m. The best viewing time will be around 7:45 p.m. when it is squarely within the penumbral shadow. You should notice the top half of the moon being a bit darker than the bottom half.
COMET 45P “NEW YEAR COMET”
Last but not least, Comet 45P will make its closest approach to Earth, 7.73 million miles away, in its orbit tonight!
This will mark the closest a comet has come to Earth in more than 30 years (1983).
This particular comet can actually be seen from Earth every 5 years or so and will be visible by binoculars or telescope over the western horizon. You need to wait until later in the evening, (best after midnight) to have a chance at seeing the comet. However, weather and clouds will be a problem.
WILL MOTHER NATURE RUIN THE FUN?
Now that I got you all excited, there is a major caveat to all of this – clouds.
There is a weak storm system headed our way from the Upper Midwest tonight. While the snow won’t start until late, mostly after midnight, the clouds will begin to roll in late this afternoon and into this evening.
I would put the chances of seeing the lunar eclipse at slightly less than 50-50 (depends on where you are and the cloud cover at the time). Even some high clouds, which will be first to arrive, will put a major damper on the viewing. And by midnight, we will certainly be completely overcast, so sadly, chances of seeing the comet are nearly zero.
Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryWBZ