On the night of May 15-16, the attention of millions will be drawn to the sky, where a mottled, coppery globe – the moon – will be completely immersed in the long, slender cone of shadow cast into space by our planet. If the weather is clear, skywatchers in most of the Americas, Europe and Africa will get a view of one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles: a total lunar eclipse.
Unlike a total solar eclipse, which often requires a long journey towards totality, lunar eclipses can usually be viewed from your own backyard. The passage of the full moon through the Earth’s shadow is also visible from all places in the hemisphere where the moon is above the horizon. The totality phase of the upcoming total lunar eclipse in May 2022 will be visible over much of North America, all of South America, central and western Europe, and much of Africa (at exception of the extreme east), which will give it a potential audience of 2.7 billion people!
It is simple to see this celestial spectacle. Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires special viewing precautions to avoid eye damage, a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to watch. All you will need are your eyes, but binoculars or a telescope will give you a much better view.
Related: How to watch the May 2022 total lunar eclipse online
The eclipse begins when the moon enters the penumbra, or faint outer part of Earth’s shadow, about an hour before it begins to move into the umbra, Earth’s dark inner shadow. The penumbra, however, is virtually invisible to the eye until the moon sinks deep into it. Keen-eyed viewers may get their first glimpse of the penumbra as a faint “spot” on the left side of the moon’s disk at or around 10:10 p.m. EDT May 15 (02:10 GMT May 16), as long as the moon is above the horizon.
The most notable part of this eclipse will come when the moon begins to move into umbra. A small scallop of darkness will begin to appear on the lower left edge of the moon at 10:28 p.m. EDT May 15 (0228 GMT May 16).
The moon is expected to take 3 hours, 27 minutes and 58 seconds to fully cross the shadow.
The show is already underway at moonrise
While viewers in much of the eastern and central United States and Canada will be able to see the moon stepping into shadow, those in western North America, to the left of a line running roughly from San Diego; in Salt Lake City; in Billings, Montana, in The Pas, Manitoba, will see the moon rise already in eclipse.
In the table below, information for eight North American cities gives the local moonrise time and the percentage of the moon’s diameter already submerged in Earth’s shadow at that time.
|Angels||7:40 p.m. PDT||21%|
|Elko, Nevada||7:46 p.m. PDT||31%|
|San Francisco||8:06 p.m. PDT||64%|
|Spokane, Washington||8:14 p.m. PDT||77%|
|Medford, OR||8:20 p.m. PDT||87%|
|Great Falls, Montana||8:47 p.m. MDT||32%|
|Boise, Idaho||8:55 p.m. MDT||46%|
|Calgary, AB||9:12 p.m. MDT||74%|
It should make for an interesting scene to see the moon rising on the east-southeast horizon already partially submerged in Earth’s dark shadow. If there are local landmarks in the foreground, it can make for a spectacular photo op.
Related: How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse
The whole thing comes
For locations where the moon remains above the horizon, the totality phase of the eclipse will last 85.5 minutes, beginning around 11:28 p.m. EDT May 15 (03:28 GMT May 16). During totality, although the moon is entirely submerged in Earth’s shadow, it is unlikely to disappear from view. Rather, the moon will appear to turn copper-red, an effect caused by Earth’s atmosphere bending or refracting sunlight into the shadows. Because Earth’s umbral shadow is cone-shaped and stretches out into space for some 864,000 miles (1.39 million kilometers), sunlight will be strained through a kind of “double sunset”. sun”, all around the edge of the Earth, in its shadow and then on the moon.
At a distance from the Earth’s Moon of 225,000 miles (362,100 km), the diameter of the Earth’s shadow is 5,800 miles (9,300 km), or 2.7 times the diameter of the Moon. So there will be no problem completely immersing the moon in shadow.
At the time of mid-totality (0412 GMT or 12:12 a.m. EDT), the moon will stand directly over Sucre, Bolivia. The moon will move into the southern part of the umbra, according to EclipseWise, so at mid-full the top half of the moon will appear the darkest – perhaps a dark reddish brown or chocolate – while the southern half will appear a lighter shade of red or even coppery orange. But the exact aspect of the moon will depend on the clarity of the Earth’s atmosphere at the time of the eclipse.
Interestingly, for locations west or left of a line from near Lincoln City, Oregon, to Edmonton, Alberta, the moon will appear to rise in total eclipse. Due to the low altitude and bright evening twilight, observers at these locations may not see much of the moon until the twilight sky darkens sufficiently or, if the sky is unusually hazy, it begins to emerge from the shadow of the Earth. Likewise, from Hawaii and Southeast Alaska, totality will end or have already ended at moonrise, so the main sight may be the moon rising from the umbral shadow as it rises in the southeastern sky.
Conversely, the moon will set in total eclipse over parts of eastern central Africa and western central Europe. Due to the low altitude and bright morning twilight, observers at these locations may not see much of the moon after it has completely slipped into Earth’s shadow.
The end . . . and upcoming attractions
The moon will pass entirely out of Earth’s shadow around 1:55 a.m. EDT (0555 GMT), and the last evidence of the penumbra is expected to disappear around 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT).
The last total lunar eclipse occurred on May 26, 2021, with a very short totality (less than 16 minutes), visible mainly from the central and western parts of North America. The last widely observable lunar eclipse visible from the Americas, dubbed the Super Blood Wolf Moon eclipse, occurred on January 20-21, 2019.
If unstable weather prevents you from seeing the upcoming eclipse, there is at least some consolation in knowing that another total lunar eclipse will be widely visible over most of the Americas in the early morning hours of November 8.
Editor’s note: If you take a great lunar eclipse photo and want to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, and name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes on astronomy for natural history journalthe Farmers Almanac and other publications. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.