As I write this it’s the evening of July 4th, 2020. There’s a penumbral lunar eclipse in about three-and-a-half hours. That’s an eclipse where the moon only skims the outer shadow of the Earth and very little noticeable shading can be seen. This brings back memories of my eclipse-watching in 2017. It was a memorable year; I drove about 300 miles round-trip to watch a total solar eclipse in Troy, Kansas. My other memorable eclipse happened earlier that year, and it wasn’t supposed to be memorable at all.
The penumbral lunar eclipse of February 11, 2017 happened early in the evening on a warmish winter night with the Moon rising in the East, the direction our house faces. We got lazy and decided to call for delivery pizza. After about 45 minutes, the kid arrived with the pizza and asked if we’d seen the eclipse. I was surprised; a penumbral eclipse is not something that the casual non-astronomy geek pays attention to.
“They’ve been talking about it on the radio,” the kid said. So I took a second glance.
The Moon had cleared the horizon and was losing its pink-orange color. A small, dark chunk looked like it had been bitten out of one edge. No binoculars needed, no indistinct shading, just what looked more like a partial eclipse. Sometimes that happens. The outer shadow is kind of indistinct and can be darker than we expect.
So we ate the pizza and I kept my eye on the moon.
And, if you are reading this before 11:30 CDT, on July 4th, 2020, the Moon will be passing through the penumbra at this time. 11:30 p.m. should be mid-eclipse, with it starting about an hour earlier. Who knows what we’ll see!