Total Lunar Eclipse on View May 15-16

On the night of May 15, and into the early hours of May 16, skywatchers will be treated to a phenomenon which takes place every 1.5 years or so: a total lunar eclipse.

Total lunar eclipses occur when the Moon and Sun are on opposite sides of Earth and the planet casts a complete shadow, or umbra, over its sole natural satellite. There may be multiple partial lunar eclipses each year, but total eclipses are a bit rarer. Best of all, unlike the precautions one takes to observe a total solar eclipse, it’s completely safe to watch a lunar eclipse unfold with the unaided eye. Even so, binoculars or a powerful telescope definitely can enrich the experience.

A nearly total eclipse
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

The partial eclipse phase will begin over North America at 9:28 p.m. Central Daylight Time on May 15. Totality will begin at 10:29 p.m. CDT, concluding about midnight. After totality, the partial phase will end at 12:56 a.m. CDT on May 16.

This full Moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance.

Mitzi Adams and Alphonse Sterling, both astronomers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, are particularly excited to observe the lunar eclipse. One of the most recent such events they documented – in January 2018 – was very low on the horizon, with trees and buildings partially obscuring the eclipse during totality.

Then, of course, the global COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on eclipse watch parties in 2020-2021.

A telescopic visualization of the total lunar eclipse
A telescopic visualization of the total lunar eclipse, happening May 15-16, 2022.
Credits: NASA/Goddard/Ernie Wright

“It’s exciting to get back to holding astronomical society events in person, where it’s safer to share a telescope eyepiece,” Adams said.

Unlike a total solar eclipse – in which ideal viewing is limited to a roughly 100-mile-wide “path of totality” as the shadow of Earth’s Moon sweeps across the land relative to the position of the Sun – a lunar eclipse has no such limits.

“The whole half of Earth in darkness during those hours will be able to see it,” Sterling said. “You don’t have to work too hard to find a good vantage point. Just go outside!”

What can viewers expect to see? As Earth’s shadow deepens on the face of the Moon, it will darken to a ruddy, red color, with its intensity depending on atmospheric interference.

It’s no surprise observers coined the ominous-sounding phrase “blood moon,” but the effect is completely natural. During the eclipse, most visible-spectrum light from the Sun is filtered out. Only the red and orange wavelengths reach the surface.

The blocking of the Moon’s reflected light has another benefit, Adams said.

“No moon means more visible stars,” she said. “During totality, if the skies are clear, we may even be able to see the Milky Way itself, showing up as a hazy white river of stars stretching away in a curving arc.”

Sterling notes that the long duration of the total eclipse offers amateur shutterbugs plenty of time to experiment with photographing the event. He recommends trying varying exposure times with conventional cameras for maximum effect.

He and Adams both emphasize the value of putting the camera aside, as well.

“Just watch it happen,” Adams said. “Looking at the Moon, it’s hard not to think about the people who actually walked there, and about those who soon will do so again – when NASA’s Artemis program launches the next human explorers to the Moon in coming years.”

Sterling said the most valuable aspect of the event is the chance to spark wonder in young minds. “We don’t get a lot of groundbreaking astronomical information from lunar eclipses, but they’re a great way to inspire discussion and engage the astronomers and explorers of tomorrow,” he said.

Find out how to watch the total lunar eclipse with NASA Science Live on Facebook. Learn more about NASA’s observations of eclipses, and inspire young stargazers with activities and information.

You can also learn more about lunar eclipses via the video below:

Happy skywatching!

by Rick Smith

Loud fireball spotted over southern Mississippi mostly heard, hardly seen

A fiery meteor streaked across the morning skies in southern Mississippi yesterday on April 27, 2022.

More than 30 eyewitnesses in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi reported seeing a bright fireball at 8:03 a.m. CDT. The sighting was soon followed by numerous reports of loud booms heard in Claiborne County, Mississippi, and surrounding counties.

GLM image from the GOES 16 satellite.
GLM image from the GOES 16 satellite. Credits: NOAA

Approximately 22,000 miles out in space, NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLM) onboard the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) 16 and 17 detected several bright flashes associated with the fragmentation’s of this bolide, or exceptionally bright meteor, which was first spotted 54 miles above the Mississippi River near the Mississippi town of Alcorn.

“This is one of the nicer events I have seen in the GLM data,” said Bill Cooke, lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Fireball ground track from eyewitness accounts.
Fireball ground track from eyewitness accounts. Credits: NASA/American Meteor Society

The object – thought to be a piece of an asteroid about a foot in diameter with a weight of 90 pounds – moved southwest at a speed of 55,000 miles per hour, breaking into pieces as it descended deeper into Earth’s atmosphere. It disintegrated about 34 miles above the swampy area north of Minorca in Louisiana.

The fragmentation of this fireball generated an energy equivalent of 3 tons of TNT (trinitrotoluene), which created shock waves that propagated to the ground, producing the booms and vibrations felt by people in the area.

At its peak, the fireball was over 10 times brighter than the Full Moon.

“What struck me as unusual was how few eyewitness reports we had given the skies were so clear,” said Cooke. “More people heard it than saw it.”

by Lance D. Davis

Mars-Saturn, Jupiter-Venus Conjunctions Happening This Month!

Skywatchers, you have the opportunity to see not just one, but two planetary conjunctions during the month of April 2022!

A conjunction is a celestial event in which two planets, a planet and the Moon, or a planet and a star appear close together in Earth’s night sky. Conjunctions have no profound astronomical significance, but they are nice to view. In our Solar System, conjunctions occur frequently between planets because the planets orbit around the Sun in approximately the same plane –  the ecliptic plane – and thus trace similar paths across our sky.

The first planetary meet up occurs on the mornings of April 4 and 5 before sunrise and includes Mars and Saturn, with Saturn being the brightest. These two planets will come together, appearing as almost a single point of light. However, if you grab your binoculars, you’ll easily see the scene with the planets switching positions on each morning.

An illustration of the Mars-Saturn conjunction looking east in Huntsville, Alabama, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April 4, 2022.
An illustration of the Mars-Saturn conjunction looking east in Huntsville, Alabama, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April 4, 2022. Credit: NASA/Marshall

We will also see a bright Jupiter ascend quickly in the morning twilight, heading towards Venus in the final week of April. Catch a great view of the planets on the morning of April 27, which will include a waxing Moon.

Jupiter and Venus will then meet in conjunction during the morning of April 30 – appearing to nearly collide into each other. Due to the glare from both planets, observers will see them merge into one very bright, spectacular glow!

An illustration of the Jupiter-Venus conjunction looking east in Huntsville, Alabama, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April 30, 2022.
An illustration of the Jupiter-Venus conjunction looking east in Huntsville, Alabama, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April 30, 2022. Credit: NASA/Marshall

Venus’s orbit is closer to the Sun than the Earth’s, and Jupiter’s orbit is much farther away, so the proximity is an illusion, occurring only because Earth, Venus, and Jupiter happen to be approximately aligned. This celestial event will continue on the morning of May 1, but the positions of the planets, Jupiter and Venus, will be reversed.

If you want to know what else is in the sky for April, check out the latest “What’s Up” video from Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Enjoy all this month has to offer as you watch the skies!

by Lance D. Davis

March Equinox Welcomes ‘Astronomical’ Spring

by Lance D. Davis

Did you know our planet has two types of seasons? They are meteorological and astronomical. What’s the difference?

“Meteorological seasons” follow the changing of the calendar, month to month, and are based on the annual temperature cycle – seasonal temperature variations modified by fluctuations in the amount of solar radiation received by Earth’s surface over the course of a year. For instance, the meteorological season of spring begins each year on March 1 and will end on May 31.

However, “astronomical” seasons happen because of the tilt of Earth’s axis (with respect to the Sun-Earth plane), and our planet’s position during its orbit around the Sun.

An illustration of the March (spring) and September (fall or autumn) equinoxes. During the equinoxes, both hemispheres receive nearly equal amounts of daylight. (Image not to scale) Credits: NASA/GSFC/Genna Duberstein

The March equinox – also called the vernal equinox – is the astronomical beginning of the spring season in the Northern Hemisphere. Seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere where it will be autumn, also known as fall. These simultaneous seasons will occur March 20, 2022, at 15:33 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) or 10:33 a.m. CDT (Central Daylight Time).

Equinox Solstice Info Graphic
Click to view larger. Credit: NASA/Space Place

The Sun will pass directly above the equator, bringing nearly equal amounts of day and night on all parts of Earth. At the equator, an equinox results in about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

Equinoxes and solstices are caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and the ceaseless motion it has while orbiting the Sun. Think of them like events happening as our planet make its journey around the Sun.

North of the equator, the March equinox will also bring us earlier sunrises, later sunsets, softer winds, and budding plants. With the reversed season, those south of the equator will experience later sunrises, earlier sunsets, chillier winds, and dry, falling leaves.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, watch the Sun as it sets just a bit farther north on the horizon each evening until the June solstice – when the Sun reverses directions, moving back to the south. Also, get outside to enjoy the warmer weather and extended daylight!

Happy March equinox, Earthlings!

Experience NASA’s Journey to LCRD Launch

LAUNCH UPDATE:  NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is now scheduled to lift off Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 3:04 a.m. CST (4:04 a.m. EST) aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. Get more details here.


Have you ever witnessed one of NASA’s launches? It’s definitely a sight to see when a rocket takes to the sky, soaring beyond our atmosphere into space.

If you haven’t, you’ll have another chance soon with the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which will continue NASA’s exploration of laser communications to support future missions to the Moon and throughout our solar system.

Illustration of NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration
Illustration of NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration communicating over laser links.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

LCRD is scheduled to launch Dec. 5 aboard an Atlas V551 rocket from Cape Canveral Space Force Station in Florida with a two-hour launch window that opens at 3:04 a.m. CST (4:04 a.m. EST).

Live coverage of the launch begins on NASA Live at 2:30 a.m. CST (3:30 a.m. EST), with countdown commentary on NASA Television, the NASA app, and NASA social media.

Register as an LCRD virtual guest to experience NASA’s journey to the LCRD launch. Along with participating online in the launch, you’ll also gain access to curated launch resources, mission information, interaction opportunities, and schedule updates. Following launch, virtual guests will receive a stamp for their virtual guest passport!

Like technology demonstrations that have come before it, LCRD is a giant step towards making operational laser, or optical, communications a reality.

But just how much data can NASA transmit at once with laser communications? To give you an idea, sending a high-resolution map of Mars would take around nine weeks with spacecraft’s current onboard radio systems, but as little as nine days with laser communications. That kind of data rate is much more appealing for future human exploration and science missions.

With the mission operating for at least two years, LCRD will start off “talking” with ground stations in California and Hawaii to test the invisible, near-infrared lasers. Engineers will beam data to and from the satellite – located more than 22,000 miles above Earth – to study and enhance the technology’s performance for an operational mission. LCRD will also help NASA update how astronauts communicate to and from space.

As NASA goes back to the Moon, laser communications can empower sustainable communications and help us prepare for a human presence on Mars.

Get the full LCRD experience below:

The Mission:

For Fun:

For Students: 

Watch, Engage on Social Media:

Developed and led by Goodard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, LCRD is funded by the Technology Demonstration Missions program, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Additionally, it’s funded by the Space Communications and Navigation program, also at NASA Headquarters.

Learn more about LCRD.

by Lance D. Davis

Longest Partial Lunar Eclipse in Centuries Coming as ‘Almost’ Total Lunar Eclipse

We have a rare opportunity to witness the longest partial lunar eclipse in nearly 600 years. If the weather permits, it will grace our sky on the night of Nov. 18 and early in the morning Nov. 19 across all of the United States.

A lunar eclipse happens when the Sun, Earth, and Full Moon form a near-perfect lineup in space. A partial lunar eclipse occurs when only a portion of the Moon passes through the Earth’s darkest shadow. During this type of eclipse, a part of the Moon will darken to a dim orange or red as it moves through the Earth’s shadow.

Partial lunar eclipse image
When only a part of the moon enters Earth’s shadow, the event is called a partial lunar eclipse. Credit: Brad Riza

The upcoming eclipse will be visible throughout much of the globe where the Moon appears above the horizon during the eclipse, including North and South America, Eastern Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Region. North America will have the best location to see the entirety of the eclipse.

The partial eclipse will begin a little after 1:00 a.m. CST on Nov 19 (11:00 pm PST on Nov 18.), reaching its maximum at 3:00 a.m. CST. Depending on your local time zone, it’ll happen earlier or later in the evening for you. It will last 3 hours and 28 minutes, making it the longest partial eclipse of this century and the longest in 580 years.

This is a remarkably deep partial eclipse as up to 97% of the Moon’s diameter will be covered by Earth’s darkest shadow. Only a thin slice of the Moon will be exposed directly to the Sun at maximum eclipse. Expect to see the rest of the Moon take on the orange-reddish colors, appearing as an “almost” total lunar eclipse.

Total Lunar Eclipse
A telescopic visualization of the 2021 total lunar eclipse.
Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

You won’t need any special glasses to see the partial lunar eclipse, unlike when viewing a solar eclipse. Just wake up, get out of the bed, and go outside to see the last lunar eclipse of 2021!

Learn more about eclipses here and enjoy this spectacle as you watch the skies!

by Lance D. Davis

International Observe the Moon Night 2021

Everyone, everywhere, every year is invited to celebrate with fellow Moon enthusiasts around our planet for International Observe the Moon Night – a worldwide public event encouraging observation, appreciation, and understanding of the Moon and its connection to NASA exploration and discovery.

Join NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Oct. 16, 2021, for the Virtual Observation Party at 6:00 p.m. CDT via the Facebook event page.

observe the moon night
Image Credit: NASA/Vi Nguyen

This virtual event is brought to you by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Additionally, it will include a planetarium show and interviews with planetary and citizen scientists. There will also be an interview about the Artemis missions. So, don’t miss out on this fun, informative program!

It’s a great time to celebrate the Moon with people all over Earth as excitement grows about NASA returning to our nearest celestial neighbor with the Artemis missions. Artemis will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore areas of the lunar surface that have never been discovered before.

Since 2010, the celebration has occurred annually in September or October when the Moon is around first quarter – a great phase for excellent viewing opportunities.

Whether it’s outdoors, at home, online, or wherever you may be, you are encouraged to be a part of International Observe the Moon Night. Please remember to follow your local health and safety guidelines.

Learn more and find other events here. Enjoy the celebration!

by Lance D. Davis

How many Perseids will I see in 2021?

By Bill Cooke, NASA Meteoroid Environments Office

Many Perseid-related news stories and social media posts state that the maximum rate is about 100 meteors per hour, which is a lot. So, folks get excited and go out on the peak night, braving mosquitos and other nightly hazards. But they are often disappointed; we routinely hear, “I went out and only saw a few meteors. Not even 20, much less 100!” And they would be right. The problem is that the 100 per hour is a theoretical number used by meteor scientists and does not convey what people are actually going to see.

In the 1980’s, meteor researchers were searching for a way to compare the meteor shower rates observed by various individuals and groups across the globe. People were reporting the rates, but the differences in sky conditions, radiant altitude and observer eyesight made getting a comprehensive view of shower activity difficult.

So, the meteor researchers put their heads together and came up with the concept of a ZHR, or Zenithal Hourly Rate. The ZHR is what you get after you correct the observed rates for the sky conditions, the altitude of the radiant above the horizon and observer biases. In other words, it is basically what a perfect observer would see under perfect skies with the meteor shower radiant straight overhead – which never happens!

The often-quoted ZHRs overestimate the meteor rates people actually see – sometimes by a lot. Fortunately, we can take the ZHR and invert things to get the hourly rates for certain locations and circumstances – it’s only math, after all. We have done this for select locations in the United States, producing the following maps.

These maps show the hourly rates that can be expected on the night of the Perseid shower’s peak, provided there are no clouds in the sky. (It’s hard to account for partial cloud cover.)

These rates assume you are out in the country, where lots of stars and the Milky Way are visible and no clouds, of course:

Perseids in CountrySo, instead of 100 Perseids per hour, people in the U.S. can reasonably expect to see around 40-ish Perseids in the hour just before dawn on the peak nights. That’s about one every couple of minutes – not bad. However, we are assuming you are out in the country, well away from cities and suburbs.

What rates can you expect if you want to do your Perseid watching from the neighborhood? We also computed that:

Perseids in SuburbsThe brighter skies of the suburbs greatly cut down the rates. We have gone from a Perseid every couple of minutes to one every 6-7 minutes – a factor of three reduction. This explains the great disappointment expressed by many casual Perseid watchers; they go outside, expecting to see at least a meteor a minute and end up with 10 or less in an hour. The brightness of your sky is everything in meteor observing – you have to get away from the lights!

But what about those in cities? The rates are close to zero:

Perseids in CityUgh! City dwellers might see a Perseid or two in an hour. Not very inspiring. Perhaps the only good news is that, if someone in a city sees a Perseid, it has to be really, really bright and spectacular.

Want to see Perseids? Then head out into the dark – it’s worth it!

Check out our previous blog post, The Perseids are on the Rise, for more information on the Perseids and tips on how to observe them.

The Perseids are on the Rise!

It’s time again for one of the biggest meteor showers of the year! The Perseids are already showing up in our night skies—and when they peak in mid-August, it’s likely to be one of our most impressive skywatching opportunities for a while.

Perseid Meteor image
In this 30 second exposure taken with a circular fish-eye lens, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Our meteor-tracking cameras spotted their first Perseid on July 26, but your best chance to see them will start the night of Aug. 11. With the crescent moon setting early, the skies will be dark for the peak viewing hours of midnight (local time) to dawn on Aug. 12.

Perseid activity
This chart shows expected levels of Perseid activity for July and August 2021, relative to the peak on Aug. 11-13, ignoring the effects of the Sun, Moon, and clouds. All times are in UTC. Credits: (NASA/MEO/Bill Cooke)

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and far away from light pollution, you might spot more than 40 Perseids an hour! (If you’re in a city, you may only see a few every hour; skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will also see fewer Perseids, with none visible below about 30 degrees south latitude.) The night of Aug. 12-13 will be another great opportunity to see the Perseids: with a full Moon (and lower meteor activity) during the Perseids’ peak in 2022 and a waning crescent high in the sky for 2023, this might be your best chance to do some summer skywatching for a few years.

Find somewhere comfortable, avoiding bright lights as much as possible (yes, including your phone), and give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark—up to half an hour if you can. The Perseids will appear as quick, small streaks of light: they get their name because they look like they’re coming from the direction of the constellation Perseus (near Aries and Taurus in the night sky), but Perseids in that area can be hard to spot from the perspective of Earth. So just look up and enjoy the show!

If you can’t see the Perseids where you live, join NASA to watch them on social media! Tune in overnight Aug. 11-12 (10 PM–5 AM CDT; 3–10 AM UTC) on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to look for meteors with space fans from around the world. If skies are cloudy the night of Aug. 11, we’ll try again the same time on Aug. 12-13. Our livestream is hosted by the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which tracks meteors, fireballs, and other uncommon sights in the night sky to inform the public and help keep our astronauts and spacecraft safe.

Where do the Perseids *actually* come from?

The Perseids are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits between the Sun and beyond the orbit of Pluto once every 133 years. Every year, the Earth passes near the path of the comet, and the debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle shows up as meteors in our sky. (Don’t worry, there’s no chance that we’ll run into the actual comet anytime soon.)

Where can I go to learn more?

We’ve got some great space-rock lessons for students, starting with the biggest question: what’s the difference between an asteroid and a meteor? Our NASA Space Place site also has a kid-friendly introduction to meteor showers in general. If you’re looking for something a little more hands-on, try this asteroid-building classroom activity—or, for an older audience, learn how to describe rocks like a NASA scientist.

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

Happy skywatching!

by Brice Russ

See the Strawberry Moon – 2021’s Last Supermoon!

Our planet’s natural satellite – better known as the Moon – will appear opposite the Sun and fully illuminated on June 24, 2021, at 18:40 UTC, which is 1:40 p.m. CDT (UTC-5). This full Moon is quite special for two reasons: it’s a Strawberry Moon and the last supermoon of the year!

The Strawberry Moon marks the last full Moon of spring or the first full Moon of summer. Towards the end of June, the Moon usually sits in a lower position in the sky and shines through more of our atmosphere. Because of this, our Moon can sometimes give off a pinkish hue.

supermoon
A supermoon rises behind the U.S. Capitol, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Washington. Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Surprisingly, the name likely has more to do with the time of the year it occurs than its unusual pink shade. Some Native American tribes referred to this full moon as the Strawberry Moon because it signaled a time for gathering ripening strawberries and other fruits.

A supermoon occurs when a full Moon coincides with the Moon’s closet approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, a point known as perigee. During every 27-day orbit around Earth, the Moon reaches both its perigee, about 226,000 miles from Earth, and its farthest point, or apogee, about 251,000 miles from Earth.

Although supermoon is not an official astronomical term, it’s typically used to describe a full Moon that comes within at least 90% of perigee. In this phase, the Moon appears larger and brighter than usual. A new Moon can also be a supermoon. However, we typically do not see a new Moon since it is between Earth and the Sun, and therefore not illuminated.

If you’re in the daylight at the time of the Super Strawberry Moon, look for a better view during its moonrise, which is about 20 minutes after sunset, local time.

The Super Strawberry Moon will be the last of four supermoons for 2021. Supermoons only happen three to four times a year, and always appear consecutively. The last three supermoons occurred on May 26, April 27, and March 28.

Skywatchers, please enjoy the sunset in the west, and if you look toward the east, you may notice the subtle pink hue of our Super Strawberry Moon!

by Lance D. Davis