Coming Soon: A “Ring of Fire” in the Sky

On Oct. 14, 2023, an annular total solar eclipse will be visible to millions across the globe as it sweeps through the skies of the northwestern United States through Mexico and Central America and into South America, exiting the continent in Brazil. Even if you are not in the path of annularity, you will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse if weather conditions are right.

An animation of the Earth that shows where the annular eclipse path will be in 2023.
Animated map showing the 2023 annular eclipse path (red dot) and partial eclipse visibility (shadowed area). Credit: Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

A map developed using data from a variety of NASA sources shows a detailed eclipse path and what observers across the States can expect to see at their local time.

The Moon’s distance from Earth is not constant, sometimes it is a little closer, sometimes a little farther away.  When the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth while it is close to or at its farthest point from Earth, an annular eclipse happens. Because the Moon is farther away from Earth than on average, it appears smaller than the Sun, creating a “ring of fire” effect in the sky, and since the Sun is never completely covered, observers must wear proper eye protection at all times while watching an annular eclipse.

During a total solar eclipse, like the upcoming 2024 Solar Eclipse, the Moon is close enough to Earth to be sufficiently large to completely cover the bright face of the Sun.  During the few minutes of totality, there will be darkness around midday.

A black circle is in the middle with a bright orange glow around it shows the 2022 annular solar eclipse.
An annular solar eclipse creates a “ring of fire” around the Moon, similar to that seen in this image taken by the Hinode spacecraft on January 4, 2011. Credit: JAXA/NASA/SAO/NAOJ

What you can see during an annular eclipse depends on the weather and your location.

      • You need a clear sky to see the eclipse. However, even with cloud cover, the eerie daytime darkness associated with eclipses is still noticeable to human animals as well as the four-footed ones and the flying ones. Birds go to roost, bees return to the hive, and even turtles come out of ponds.
      • To see all phases of an annular eclipse, including the “ring of fire,” you must view it from somewhere within the path of annularity.
An animation video of what the annual eclipse looks like. A black circle moves across the bright orange circle that represents the moon.
This conceptual animation is an example of what you might expect to see through certified solar-viewing glasses or a handheld solar filter during an annular solar eclipse, like the one happening over the United States on October 14, 2023. Annular eclipses are famous for the “ring of fire” effect that appears around the edge of the Moon. This happens because the Moon is slightly farther from Earth and appears too small to block out the Sun completely. Credit: NASA

If you are not within the path of annularity, watching the eclipse from a virtual location is a great option. Join NASA for conversations with scientists and telescope views from across the country on NASA’s YouTube beginning at 10:30 a.m. CT on Oct. 14, 2023.

By Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Saturn Shines This Week – 3 Ways to View the Planet’s Opposition

Saturn will be located directly opposite of the Sun – at opposition – on August 26-27, 2023, as the Earth orbits between the two. From our vantage point, the Sun’s illumination will allow Saturn to appear bigger and brighter in the sky in the weeks leading up to and after the opposition. In fact, Saturn remains visible until February 2024, so don’t worry if your local weather doesn’t cooperate with your viewing plans on any particular day.

A graph that shows how far away Saturn is from the sun via concentric circles.
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest planet in our solar system. Like fellow gas giant Jupiter, Saturn is a massive ball made mostly of hydrogen and helium. Saturn is not the only planet to have rings, but none are as spectacular or as complex as Saturn’s.(Credit: NASA Solar System)

Unaided Eye
Saturn is the farthest planet from Earth easily visible by the unaided human eye. It will appear on the southeastern horizon at sunset and you can spot the bright yellowish “star” all through the night until sunrise. Although you won’t be able to view any distinguishing features, like the famed icy rings without an aid, opposition is the brightest the planet will appear – pretty good for something over 800 million miles away!

The rings of Saturn in colors of Green Blue and red to depict how cold they are.
The varying temperatures of Saturn’s rings are depicted in this false-color image from the Cassini spacecraft. This image represents the most detailed look to date at the temperature of Saturn’s rings. (Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/Ames)

Viewing Saturn through binoculars will enhance its golden color and depending on your binoculars, allow you to make out a hint of the telltale rings, appearing more like “ears”. If you have dark, clear viewing conditions, you may also be able to observe Saturn’s largest moon Titan through your binoculars.

As is true with other celestial objects, a telescope will vastly improve what and how much you are able to see. Even a small telescope will allow you to see more details of Saturn’s rings. Of all the planets that can be observed, many astronomers encourage a Saturn-viewing in everyone’s lifetime. Even a modest magnification can provide a unique experience.

Two images of Saturn with rings. The top image shows more of a beige with a tint of red with white rings and the bottom image is very yellow with yellow rings.
The top image is a view from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope taken on March 22, 2004. Camera exposures in four filters (blue, blue-green, green and red) were combined to form the Hubble image and render colors similar to what the eye would see through a telescope focused on Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft returned the bottom image of Saturn on May 16, 2004, when its imaging science subsystem narrow-angle camera was too close to fit the entire planet in its field-of-view. (Credit: Hubble: NASA, ESA and Erich Karkoschka (University of Arizona), Cassini: NASA/JPL)

Bonus Viewing
Opposition not only makes for a slightly bigger and brighter appearing planet, but as you watch the skies over the next week, you’ll also be treated to a waxing gibbous moon leading up to the Super Blue Moon on August 30, 2023. A supermoon occurs when the Moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth at the same time the Moon is full, causing the Moon to appear slightly larger and brighter than a regular full moon. A blue moon is the second full moon in a month.

Happy skygazing!

By Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Best Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks This Weekend

The NASA All Sky Fireball Network is already detecting the first meteors of this year’s Perseid meteor shower! The meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12 as the Earth passes through the dustiest debris of comet Swift-Tuttle’s trails.

A bright white streak is in the bottom left corner on a dark grey almost black background.
On July 26, 2023, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network detected the first Perseid meteor of the year. (NASA/All Sky Fireball Network)

The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be the best meteor shower of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures. Unlike last year’s shower coinciding with the full moon, this year’s moon will be a waning crescent, allowing even some of the fainter meteors to be seen.

So, how many can you see?

“People in the U.S. can reasonably expect to see around 40 Perseids in the hour just before dawn on the peak nights. That’s about one every couple of minutes, which is not bad,” said Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “However, we are assuming you are out in the country, well away from cities and suburbs.”

The brighter skies of suburban areas greatly reduce the rates, with 10 or fewer expected in an hour.

You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere. All you need to catch the show is a clear sky, darkness, and a bit of patience. You don’t need to look in any particular direction; meteors can generally be seen all over the sky.

A graph shows the Perseid Radiant with time.
This diagram, based on data from the NASA Fireball Network, shows the change in the direction of the Perseid radiant with time. This is caused by Earth’s motion about the Sun, causing the radiant to appear to “drift” with respect to the background stars. (Danielle Moser, NASA Meteoroid Environment Office)

The Perseids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, and each meteor has a similar orbit. Meteor showers take their name from the location of their point of origin, or what is known as the radiant.

A Space Shuttle being wheeled out with people standing in the foreground.
On June 1, 1993, the orbiter Discovery is shown here being rolled into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for mating with the external tank and twin solid rocket boosters. At the time, Discovery was being prepared for mission STS-51, targeted for a mid-July liftoff. (NASA/JSC)

Fun fact:
The Perseid meteor shower is the only meteor shower to delay a Space Shuttle launch. In 1993, the NASA – STS-51 launch was delayed due to concerns about the Perseid meteor shower activity being forecast to be extremely heavy, increasing the chance that a spacecraft in Earth orbit could be damaged by a piece of the debris.

By Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Venus’s Brilliance Begins July’s Celestial Celebration

Fireworks won’t be the only bright objects lighting the sky this month. The next full moon will appear on the morning of Monday, July 3, although it will seem full for up to three days.

The nearly full moon rises over the city of New Orleans in a time lapse video where the headlights of cars are streaks on the road.
The nearly full moon rises over the city of New Orleans on Tuesday evening, May 25, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/ Michael DeMocker

The July full moon is also called the “Full Buck Moon,” according to the Farmers’ Almanac, as this is the time of year when male deer antlers are in full growth. Alternatively, the Haida and Tlingit Indian Tribes of Alaska referred to the July full moon as the “Salmon Moon,” as it was a time of significant salmon migration. Perhaps you have heard the phrase describing corn fields as growing to “knee-high by fourth of July?” The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would refer to the July full Moon as the “Corn in Tassel Month,” due to the growth cycle of the crop.

This will be the first full Moon of the summer season and the first full Moon after the Summer Solstice. Lunar enthusiasts will have two super opportunities for full-Moon gazing in August – the Sturgeon Supermoon and the Blue Supermoon.

As the moon transitions to third quarter, Earth’s next brightest neighbor, Venus, will reach its greatest illuminated extent. Around July 7, Venus will reach apparent magnitude – 4.6. For reference, a full Moon, the second brightest celestial object after the Sun, has an apparent magnitude up to –12.6 and the faintest star you can see with your eye has a magnitude of +7.2.

The northern hemisphere is displayed in this global view of the surface of Venus as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.
The northern hemisphere is displayed in this global view of the surface of Venus as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Finally, wrap up the month by sharing some lunar love on International Moon Day July 20 next time on Watch the Skies!

Welcome June with a Full Strawberry Moon and Summer Solstice

Sky enthusiasts, start off summer by witnessing two extraordinary celestial events in June – the Full Strawberry Moon and the summer solstice. These events hold both historical and cultural significance.

The Moon rises as a Metrorail car crosses the Potomac river in Washington
The Moon rises as a Metrorail car crosses the Potomac river in Washington 50 years to the day after astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin launched on Apollo 11, the first mission to land astronauts on the Moon, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Full Strawberry Moon, depending on one’s time zone, will illuminate the night sky on June 3. Although the exact moment of full moon occurs when the Moon is opposite the Earth from the Sun, its full appearance will extend for about a day before and after the event. Remember to bring binoculars or a telescope to see all of the details of the Moon’s craters and other lunar features.

The name “Full Strawberry Moon” originated from the Algonquin tribes in the northeastern United States. This full moon occurred during the month of June when strawberries were ripening and ready to be harvested. The name “Strawberry Moon” has been passed down through generations and continues to be used by many today.

Diagram of the Earth’s alignment with the Sun for the June and December solstices.
Diagram of the Earth’s alignment with the Sun for the June and December solstices. (NASA)

Later in the month on June 21, the summer solstice will mark the beginning of the astronomical summer and the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of winter and the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. This change in season is due to the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth’s axis compared to its orbit around the sun, allowing the most direct sunlight to reach the Northern Hemisphere this month.

Throughout history, this celestial event has played a crucial role in various civilizations, shaping their calendars, traditions, and agricultural practices. Farmers would rely on the June Solstice to determine when to plant and harvest crops. The solstice’s timing influenced the development of many calendars, such as the ancient Roman calendar and the modern Gregorian calendar.

Enjoy the seasonal change as you watch the skies!

By Eben Boothby

May’s Sky Show: Top Planetary Events to Observe in May

May is a great month for stargazing with a host of celestial events happening in the morning and evening skies.

On May 17, a slim crescent moon will rise about an hour before the Sun. From much of the United States and Canada, you’ll be able to see Jupiter appearing very close to the Moon. In some southern U.S. states, Jupiter will pass behind the Moon as the pair rises in morning twilight. From western states, Jupiter will be behind the Moon, in occultation, as the duo rise. Jupiter will start to emerge from behind the Moon as the Sun comes up. To observe this event, you’ll need a clear view of the horizon, and a pair of binoculars will be essential as many locations in the U.S. will be in daylight during this occultation.

The image reveals Earth's Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Earth's crescent, arranged from bottom to top.
Astronaut Scott Kelly observes three planets and Earth’s Moon in an impressive display while conducting long-duration space flight research aboard the International Space Station. The image reveals Earth’s Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Earth’s crescent, arranged from bottom to top. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Following sunset from May 22 through 24, you’ll be able to witness a close grouping of the Moon, Venus, and Mars in the western sky. The Moon will sit between the two planets on the 23rd. Venus has been rising higher in the sky each evening for the past few months, but in May, it’ll reach its highest point in the western sky.

For those stargazing from the Southern Hemisphere, there are some key differences in the night sky compared to the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, there’s no counterpart to the North Star in the Southern Hemisphere, and the seasonal star patterns that a northern observer are familiar with appear flipped upside down when viewed in southern skies.

A photo of the Southern Hemisphere with stars and two Magellanic Clouds
Some celestial objects are only visible from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, such as central portions of our Milky Way galaxy, left, plus the two Magellanic Clouds above and to the left of the observatory dome, as shown in this photo taken at Cerro Paranal in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Credits: ESO / Y. Beletsky

Two entire galaxies, the large and small Magellanic Clouds, can be easily observed in the southern sky with the unaided eye. These are dwarf galaxies that orbit our own Milky Way galaxy.

If you are interested in what else is in the sky for May, check out the latest “What’s Up” video from Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Enjoy these stellar spectacles as you watch the skies!

By Eben Boothby

The eta Aquariid Meteor Shower Outburst to Peak the Night of May 4-5

A meteor streaks across the sky in a gif with trees in the foreground.
Credit: AMS Elizabeth Warner

The eta Aquariid meteor shower is active throughout April and May, peaking in the pre-dawn hours of May 5. This year could be particularly impressive as an outburst year with 120-160 meteors per hour expected.

“A meteor shower is like a normal rain shower, with 50-60 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke, lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “An outburst is like a thunderstorm, with greater than normal meteor activity expected. A meteor storm is like a tornado, where meteor rates are over one thousand per hour.”

Despite the full moon lighting up the sky and washing out the faint meteors, this year’s eta Aquariid meteor shower is not one to miss. In terms of producing fireballs, NASA camera data places it #6 among meteor showers. These bright fireballs are caused by Earth running into a dense stream of debris from Comet Halley, a lot of which was ejected more than 3,000 years ago. Moving at 148,000 mph, some of these fireballs leave glowing “trains” in their wake that last for several seconds to minutes.

C-141 Kuiper Airborne Imagery of Comet Halley (New Zealand Expedition) PHOTO CREDIT Photo taken with equipment designed, mounted on the headring and operated by the Charleston (South Carolina) County School District CAN DO Project;

How to View
The eta Aquariid meteor shower is viewable in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, with higher rates of visibility to observers in the Southern Hemisphere. This is due to the radiant’s location in the constellation of Aquarius. Meteors will be observable after midnight, but the peak times are 3-4 a.m. until dawn.

Regardless of your geographic location, you’ll want to find an area well away from city lights for best viewing. Give yourself about 30 minutes in the dark for your eyes to adapt – this means not looking at your phone. Look AWAY from the moon and take in as much sky as possible.

An image of an Eta Aquarid meteor from the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee in May, 2013.

The next major meteor showers will be the Perseids in August, and the sister show to the eta Aquariids, the Orionids in October.

But there’s plenty more skygazing to do this month. Check out What’s Up in May from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

By Lauren Perkins 

Heads Up! Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks April 22-23

This year’s Lyrid meteor shower will peak in the predawn hours of April 23. On average, the shower can produce up to 15 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions. The Lyrids occur every year in mid-April, when Earth crosses the trail of debris left by the Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. These bits of comet burn up when they hit Earth’s atmosphere and produce this shower of shooting stars. The shower gets its name from the constellation Lyra, the point in the sky where the meteors appear to originate. Unlike the Perseids or Geminids, the Lyrids are not known for bright fireballs. What makes them special is their unpredictability.

Lyrid Meteors from the Constellation Lyra – Image Credit & Copyright: Petr Horálek

The first record of the Lyrid meteor shower dates back 2,700 years, making it one of the oldest in history. Researchers looking though old records have found descriptions of major Lyrid outbursts. For example, a notation made by the French bishop Gregory of Tours in April of 582 A.D. states, “At Soissons, we see the sky on fire.” There was also a Lyrid outburst visible over the United States in 1803. An article in the Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser describes the shower: “From one until three, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets.” The last Lyrid outburst was in 1982, when 75 meteors per hour were recorded by observers in Florida.

The common theme here is that Lyrid outbursts are surprises. Unlike some other showers, meteor researchers aren’t able to predict Lyrid outbursts as well. That’s why it is important to make observations each year so that models of its activity can be improved.

How can you best observe the Lyrids? After 10:30 p.m. local time on the night of April 22, find a dark place away from city lights with open sky free of clouds and look straight up. It will take about 30 minutes for your eyes to get acclimated to the dark. Don’t look at your cell phone – the bright light from its screen will interrupt your night vision. You will begin to see Lyrids, and as the night progresses the meteors will appear more often, reaching 10 to 15 per hour in the pre-dawn hours of the 23rd. You can see Lyrids on the night before and after the peak, but the rates will be lower, maybe five per hour or so.

For more on meteors, visit the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.

The 2022 Geminids Meteor Shower Is Approaching

The cosmos’ annual gift to sky watchers, the Geminids Meteor shower, will peak on Dec. 13-14 this year.

During peak activity and perfect weather conditions, which are rare, the Geminids produce approximately 100-150 meteors per hour for viewing. However, this year a waning gibbous moon will make it harder to view most of the shower, resulting in only 30-40 visible meteors per hour at the peak in the Northern Hemisphere, depending on sky conditions. But the Geminids are so bright that this should still be a good show.

Bill Cooke, lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, suggests sitting in the shade of a house or tree while also maintaining a view of the open sky to alleviate moonlight interference.

The meteor shower is coined the Geminids because the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini. According to Cooke, meteors close to the radiant have very short trails and are easily missed, so observers should avoid looking at that constellation. However, tracing a meteor backwards to the constellation Gemini can determine if you caught a Geminid (other weaker showers occur at the same time).

Gemini does not appear very high above the horizon in the Southern Hemisphere, resulting in viewers only seeing approximately 25% of the rates seen in the Northern Hemisphere, which is between 7-10 meteors per hour. Sky watchers from the Southern Hemisphere are encouraged to find areas with minimal light pollution and look to the northern sky to improve their viewing opportunities.

A black circle has a series of white streaks which represent the geminid meteor shower.
Over 100 meteors are recorded in this composite image taken during the peak of the Geminid meteor shower in 2014. Credit: Jacobs Space Exploration Group/ESSCA

The Geminids start around 9 or 10 p.m. CST on Dec. 13, making it a great viewing opportunity for any viewers who cannot be awake during later hours of the night. The shower will peak at 6 a.m. CST on Dec. 14, but the best rates will be seen earlier around 2 a.m. local time. You can still view Geminids just before or after this date, but the last opportunity is on Dec. 17 – when a dedicated observer could possibly spot one or two on that night.

For prime viewing, find an area away from city and streetlights, bundle up for winter weather conditions, bring a blanket or sleeping bag for extra comfort, lie flat on your back with your feet facing south, and look up. Practice patience because it will take approximately 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust and see the meteors. Refrain from looking at your cell phone or other bright objects to keep your eyes adjusted.

The show will last for most of the night, so you have multiple opportunities to spot the brilliant streaks of light across our sky.

So where does this magnificent shower come from? Meteors are fragments and particles that burn up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, and they usually originate from comets.

The Geminid shower originates from the debris of 3200 Phaethon  an asteroid first discovered on Oct. 11, 1983, using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. Phaethon orbits the Sun every 1.4 years, and every year Earth passes through its trail of debris, resulting in the Geminids Shower.

Phaethon is the first asteroid to be associated with a meteor shower, but astronomers debate its exact classification and origins. Phaethon lacks an icy shell (the staple characteristic of a comet), but some consider it a “dead comet” – suggesting it once had an icy shell that melted away. Other astronomers call it a “rock comet” because Phaethon passes very close to the Sun during its orbit, which theoretically results in heating and cracking that creates debris and dust. The bottom line is Phaethon’s exact origins are still a mystery, but we do know it’s the Geminids parent body.

Geminids travel 78,000 miles per hour, over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet, but it is highly unlikely that meteors will reach the ground – most Geminids burn up at altitudes between 45 to 55 miles.

An info graphic showing the altitude of the geminids based on 2019’s meteor camera data for the Geminids.
An info graphic based on 2019’s meteor camera data for the Geminids. Credit: NASA

In addition to sky watching opportunities, meteor videos recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network are available each morning to identify Geminids in these videos – just look for events labeled “GEM.”

And, if you want to know what else is in the sky for December, check out the video below from Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s monthly “What’s Up” video series:

Happy stargazing!

by Lane Figueroa

Last Chance to See Total Lunar Eclipse Until 2025!

For the second time in 2022, stargazers will have the opportunity to view a total lunar eclipse on Nov. 8. At least a portion of the phenomenon will be visible throughout eastern Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and North America. The previous total lunar eclipse happened in May.

According to Alphonse Sterling, astrophysicist from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, total lunar eclipses occur approximately once every 1.5 years on average. While the Moon has been providing generous eclipse viewing opportunities this year, viewers should take advantage of November’s eclipse because the next total lunar eclipse will not occur until 2025.

A shot of 7 phases of a lunar eclipse with a building with the NASA logo on it in the foreground.
The Flower Moon lunar eclipse over NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is shown from the initial partial eclipse to totality in a composite of seven images shot on Sunday, May 15, 2022.
Image credit: NASA/Michael DeMocker

A total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth casts a complete shadow – called an umbra – over the Moon. Earth’s shadow is categorized into two parts: the umbra, the innermost part of the shadow where direct light from the Sun is completely blocked, and the penumbra, the outermost part of the shadow where the light is partially blocked.

During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon and the Sun are on opposite sides of Earth. Many people wonder why lunar eclipses don’t happen every month given the Moon completes an orbit around Earth every 27 days. The reason is because the Moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted relative to Earth’s orbit around the Sun, so the Moon often passes above or below Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses are only possible when the orbits align so that the Moon is directly behind Earth relative to the Sun.

For North America the action will start in the early hours of the morning on Nov. 8. The partial eclipse will begin at 3:09 a.m. CST, with totality beginning at 4:16 a.m. and ending at 5:42 a.m. Then, the partial phase will resume, lasting until 6:49 a.m. Those in the eastern part of the United States will miss most or all of the last partial phase because the Moon will set during totality or shortly after totality ends.

Another feature of a total lunar eclipse is the Moon’s red hue during totality. The red color occurs because of the refraction, filtering, and scattering of light by Earth’s atmosphere. The scattering is a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering – named after the 19th-century British Physicist Lord Rayleigh.

Rayleigh scattering is also the reason for red sunrises and sunsets. Light from the Sun collides into the gases of Earth’s atmosphere and because of its shorter wavelength, blue light is filtered out, but red light is not easily scattered because of its longer wavelength. Some of that red light is refracted, or bent, as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere and ends up shining on the Moon with a ghostly red light. The degree of redness of a fully eclipsed Moon can be influenced by atmospheric conditions resulting from volcanic eruptions, fires, and dust storms.

A nearly total eclipse of a full moon that has a red shade to it.
A nearly total eclipse of November’s full “Beaver Moon” captured over the city of New Orleans before dawn on Nov. 19, 2021. The 97% eclipse clocked in at 3 hours, 28 minutes, and 24 seconds, making it the longest partial lunar eclipse in 580 years. Credits: NASA/Michoud Assembly Facility

But what does Earth look like from the Moon’s perspective during a lunar eclipse? According to Mitzi Adams, astrophysicist at Marshall, astronauts on the Moon during a total lunar eclipse would see a red ring around a silhouetted Earth. As NASA works to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon through the Artemis program, it’s fascinating to consider how Earthlings will experience astronomical events away from their home planet.

No special eye protection is needed for viewing a lunar eclipse, unlike solar eclipses (which occur during the daytime). While the lunar eclipse can be observed with the unaided eye, a pair of binoculars or a telescope can enhance the view.

Sterling says a fun activity for those who stargaze with family or friends is to discuss who notices the reddish hue of totality first and how it progresses throughout the eclipse.

Gain more understanding of lunar eclipses, learn about NASA’s observations of eclipses, and inspire young stargazers with activities and information.

Finally, if you want to know what else is happening as you watch the skies in November, check out Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s latest “What’s Up” video:

Happy skywatching!

by Lane Figueroa