Partial lunar eclipse visible early Saturday
Skywatchers might have a good reason to get up really early on Saturday.
A partial eclipse of the moon will be seen in the southwestern sky between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
In addition, a marginally visible comet may be seen through binoculars low in the northeastern sky before dawn.
Friday night’s full moon will make its shortest trek of the year, rising about sunset in the southeastern sky and traversing above the southern horizon near the constellation Sagittarius.
The moon will move into Earth’s shadow starting at 1:57 a.m., and then orbit under a portion of the deep shadow known as the umbra at 3:16 a.m.
It will reach its greatest level of eclipse at 4:38 a.m., but will never be fully immersed in the umbra shadow, which means it is likely that the characteristic copper glow of a lunar eclipse will be strongest on one side of the moon’s face.
The eclipse leaves the umbra at 5:59 a.m., about the time the moon sets in the southwestern sky. Observers farther west in Hawaii, Australia and Asia will see the moon leave the shadow.
For the past month or so, astronomers have been looking out for the latest Comet McNaught, named after Australian astronomer Robert McNaught.
Earlier this month, it was spotted easily by astronomers before dawn looking through binoculars or telescopes currently north and west of the star Capella in constellation Auriga in the northeastern sky.
The comet has been showing a modest tail, according to Sky and Telescope’s website. The eclipse may dampen Saturday morning’s moonlight enough to allow for easier viewing of the comet.
Astronomy.com says that observers at high latitudes may have trouble seeing the comet because of the long pre-dawn period and the chance that clouds high in the atmosphere might add a glow to the sky. The tail, if spotted, should point northward.
Another Comet McNaught in January 2007 was easily visible to the naked eye at sunset.