Look up on Sunday night for a chance to see the Earth, Moon, and Sun line up to produce a total lunar eclipse.
The Full Flower Moon will rise on the night of May 15. This will be a special one, too — for the second year in a row, we are seeing a Blood Flower Moon, where the Moon turns red as it passes straight through Earth's shadow.
The path of the Full Flower Moon as it passes through Earth's shadow on the night of May 15-16, 2022. Credit: NASA/Fred Espenak/Scott Sutherland
The total lunar eclipse begins at around 9:32 p.m. ET on Sunday night. However, it will be difficult to notice right away, as the outer portion of Earth's shadow — the penumbra — only causes the Moon to dim slightly.
The best time to begin watching is roughly an hour after the eclipse starts. That's when the Moon starts its transit across the darker umbra. For about an hour afterward, the bright face of the Full Moon will vanish, bit by bit, until it turns a dusky red.
The total eclipse begins at 11:29 p.m. ET and reaches maximum at around 12:11 a.m. ET. The Moon then begins to exit the umbra at around 12:54 a.m. ET. Altogether, the total eclipse lasts for one hour and 25 minutes.
The above times all reference Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Since the event happens simultaneously for everyone, viewers in other time zones will need to adjust accordingly (see the table below).
NOT SUPER, BUT STILL GREAT
Total lunar eclipses tend to appear very similar to each other. The Full Moon first dims, then turns a dusky red. Then it leaves the red colour behind and grows brighter until the eclipse ends. However, each eclipse that occurs is slightly different from the last.
For one, the Moon's distance from Earth varies from eclipse to eclipse. Thus the Full Moon appears smaller or larger depending on how far away it is at the time. So, for example, last year's May lunar eclipse was close enough to be considered a supermoon, and thus we had the Super Blood Flower Moon. The May 15 Full Flower Moon is a bit farther away, though. Therefore, it doesn't qualify as a supermoon.
In addition, the exact positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun differ during each eclipse. This results in what are known as Saros series — a series of lunar eclipses, each occurring around 18 years apart, where the Full Moon crosses Earth's shadow at the exact same angle. However, the difference between these is how close the Moon's path is to the middle of the shadow.
Six total lunar eclipses from Saros Series 131 are shown here, demonstrating how the Moon's path starts low in Earth's shadow and then, eclipse-by-eclipse, gets higher and higher. Credit: NASA
Note that although the angle of each of the eclipses shown in the image above appears to change with each panel, they are all at precisely the same angle with respect to the Earth's orbit around the Sun (the ecliptic, shown by the dotted line).
LONGEST FOR CANADA IN NEARLY 22 YEARS
According to NASA, the total eclipse will last nearly an hour and 25 minutes. While there have been longer ones in more recent years, this will be the longest total lunar eclipse seen from Canada since August 2007. The next total lunar eclipse that will be longer occurs just over 7 years from now, in June of 2029.
Weather permitting, on the night of May 15, viewers in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and most of Ontario will be able to see the entire eclipse from start to finish. However, the farther west you are, the farther along the eclipse will be in its timeline by the time the Moon rises.
For skywatchers in the western half of Canada, pay close attention to the timing of when the Moon rises in your area. The best part of the eclipse doesn't start until the Moon enters the umbra, so most of the country will have an excellent view of the total eclipse. Only those in far northwestern British Columbia, western Northwest Territories, and the Yukon will miss out on the event, as the total eclipse ends before the Moon rises there.
If you can't see this one for yourself, either due to the timing or because the weather does not cooperate in providing you with clear skies, the event is sure to be live-streamed from various locations across Canada and the United States. Watch for updates.
If you miss it entirely, don't worry. There's another chance — which is especially good for western Canada — coming up in early November.