Mother Moon Dances Tonight!

February 20, 2008

             Unless you’ve been living under an un-nerdy rock of late, you should know that a total lunar eclipse will be on display tonight for almost all of North America. Since it will be the last opportunity you have to see one for another three years, I would seriously advise you to take out them binoculars and telescopes, and peer out into the Eastern sky between 10 and 11 this evening.  

          Even those of us living in super-light-polluted New York City will be able to join in on the fun. Here is a schedule of the eclipse and its phases, as provided by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York:

        There’s a big event coming up – a total lunar eclipse – on Wednesday evening, February 20. The partial phase begins at 8:43 PM, totality runs from 10:00 to 10:52 PM and the partial eclipse ends at 12:09 AM. Both Saturn and the star Regulus will be near the Moon.

Phases of the eclipse (see below for times):

1. Penumbral eclipse begins. The penumbra is the region where Earth partially eclipses the Sun. There is a slight darkening of the leading edge of the Moon. Not very dramatic.

2. Partial eclipse begins. The Moon enters the umbra of Earth’s shadow, where the Sun is totally eclipsed. There is a dramatic reduction in light in the umbral region, and the boundary of the umbra is easily seen. For over an hour more and more of the Moon enters the umbra.

3. Total eclipse begins. The entire Moon is now in the umbra. The Moon is not totally dark, but usually appears somewhat reddish. This occurs because while not receiving light directly from the Sun, some light passes through Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the Moon after being refracted (and reddened). For Wednesday’s eclipse, this phase will last 52 minutes.

4. Total eclipse ends. The phases now appear in reverse order. The leading edge of the Moon exits the umbra. The eclipse is once again partial.

5. Partial eclipse ends. All of the Moon has left the umbra. Only a penumbral eclipse remains.

6. Penumbral eclipse ends. The Moon is restored to its usual brightness.

Penumbral Eclipse Begins 7:35 PM
Partial Eclipse Begins 8:43 PM
Total Eclipse Begins 10:00 PM
Middle of Total Eclipse 10:25 PM
Total Eclipse Ends 10:52 PM
Partial Eclipse Ends 12:09 AM
Penumbral Eclipse Ends 1:17 AM


We’ll have telescopes and binoculars set up at a number of locations. These include:

Carl Schurz Park in Manhattan: At the east end of 86th Street. We’ll be set up overlooking the East River (map and directions at

Floyd Bennett Field: We have made arrangements with the National Park Service to have an extra observing session at Floyd Bennett Field. We will view the lunar eclipse on Wednesday, Feb 20. This will be at our usual meeting place, the Model Airplane Flying Field. The event will start at our usual time, 8:00 PM. Early arrivals are welcome. We will be able to stay later than our usual quitting time should conditions permit. We will have several instruments set up. Handouts will be available. People attending should remember that they need to go around some orange barriers in order to get to the Flying Field. These barriers are there to restrict the people going to the Aviation Sports complex. We have permission to go onto the runways (map and directions at

Park Slope, at the corner of 7th Avenue and 9th Street.

Northern Boulevard and 82nd Street (in front of the firehouse), in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Also, feel free to learn about how a lunar eclipse saved Christopher Columbus.