Did you see Friday’s “Wolf Moon Eclipse,” better known as a penumbral lunar eclipse? Visible from Europe, Africa, Asia and parts of Australia, observers under clear skies saw a rather odd-looking full moon on Friday, January 10, 2020 as our satellite passed into Earth’s outer shadow, called the penumbra.
It wasn’t visible in North America, where just a regular January “Full Wolf Moon” was observed, but there are plenty of minor penumbral lunar eclipses (caused when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon are almost, but not quite aligned, and our satellite drifts into Earth’s shadow for a few hours) coming in the build-up to the next total lunar eclipse “Super Flower Blood Moon” in 2021.
When are the next lunar eclipses in 2020?
There are three more penumbral lunar eclipses in 2020. However, none are as deep as the “Wolf Moon Eclipse” and they will be of mostly passing interest to most observers.
- June 5, 2020: ‘Strawberry Moon Eclipse’
Visible to observers in Asia, Africa and Australia, 57% of the “Strawberry Moon Eclipse” will pass into Earth’s penumbra during this event, which occurs two weeks before an annular solar eclipse. Here’s an interactive Google Map.
- July 5, 2020: ‘Thunder Moon Eclipse’
Visible from South America, North America and Africa, a mere 35% of the “Thunder Moon Eclipse” will be covered by Earth’s penumbra, so this eclipse will be hard to see. It happens exactly two weeks after an annular solar eclipse. Here’s an interactive Google Map.
- November 29-30, 2020: ‘Frosty Moon Eclipse’
If you’re really keen eclipse-watcher and/or moon-gazer, this is the one to wait for. Visible from North and South America, Australia and East Asia, 83% of the “Frosty Moon Eclipse” will cross into Earth’s penumbra, so this one will likely be more obvious. It occurs two weeks before a total solar eclipse in South America. Here’s an interactive Google Map.
Penumbral lunar eclipse vs. total lunar eclipse
The most famous kind of lunar eclipse is a total lunar eclipse, which is often called a “blood moon” (though astronomers don’t use that term). In that event, the moon enters the Earth’s central shadow, its umbra, and it turns reddish. That’s because the only light on the lunar surface is filtered by Earth’s atmosphere, which is very good at scattering blue light, but not so good at scattering red light.
However, during a penumbral lunar eclipse the moon merely loses a lot of brightness as it passes through Earth’s penumbra. A partially shaded, duller full moon is a bizarre sight to experienced moon-gazers, though most people won’t notice anything.
When is the next total lunar eclipse ‘blood moon’?
It’s going to be brief. The next total lunar eclipse is on May 26, 2021, visible from Australia, parts of the western US, western South America, and South-East Asia. However, the “blood moon” part of the event where the Moon crosses into Earth’s dark umbral shadow will last only 15 minutes, so it likely won’t be as “bloody” as some total lunar eclipses. Here’s an interactive Google Map.
However, it’s also a “supermoon”—caused by the Moon being closest to Earth in its slightly elliptical monthly orbit—so expect there to be a big build-up to a slightly larger-looking “Super Flower Blood Moon.” It will happen in the early hours in the western states of North America.
The next long total lunar eclipse “blood moon” observable by the east coast of North America is on May 15, 2022. Here’s an interactive Google Map.
DISCLAIMER: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.