Beginning at 1:02 a.m. on Nov. 8, people in Boulder will be treated to a total lunar eclipse. A little later in the month, Nov. 17–18, the Leonids meteor shower will light up the night sky.
Francisco “Tito” Salas, operations manager at CU Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, discusses both events and offers tips on viewing the night sky.
Best time to see the lunar eclipse
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses last a while. After the eclipse begins, viewers will have a long window of time to take in the views, as the moon becomes more reddish over time. This eclipse will last about six hours, according to Salas.
“Lunar eclipses last a long time,” Salas said. “With a lunar eclipse you have time to enjoy." Since it's November, it's best to be prepared, so Salas also recommends bringing a blanket and warm clothing outside.
In total, the eclipse will last from 1:02–6:56 a.m., with the total eclipse lasting from 3:16–4:41 a.m. Viewers will have plenty of time to appreciate the spectacular view.
How and where to view the lunar eclipse
For this eclipse, viewing tools are optional. Some observers like to see a lot of details, while others may like to see the moon stand out against the dark background of the night sky. Salas recommends a small pair of binoculars or a telescope for those who want to see the details of the moon's surface.
The best place to watch the eclipse is from your own backyard. If on campus, step outside your residence hall to an area where you can see the night sky. You don’t want to miss your chance to see this total lunar eclipse, because it will be several years before the next one is visible in Boulder.
“It is very rare that you can see it from the same area,” Salas said. “We won’t be able to see the next lunar eclipse from here, but somebody else in some other country or area on Earth will be able to see it.”
This eclipse is viewable from many parts of the world. This includes much of South America, North America, Asia, North and East Europe, Australia and more.
Why does the moon turn reddish during an eclipse?
The most noticeable quality of a lunar eclipse is the moon’s change of color. Once the moon enters the Earth’s shadow, it becomes a reddish-orange. This is what gives the moon its nickname of “blood moon” during a total eclipse, Salas said.
“A lunar eclipse happens when the moon enters the Earth’s shadow,” Salas said.
As the lunar eclipse gets going, the moon will go from appearing slightly red, to a completely reddish moon.
Salas says to get outside around 3:16 a.m. to view the fully red moon.
“The whole moon will be in the actual shadow of the Earth,” Salas said. “This one is totality. Then it will just continue moving.”
How often do lunar eclipses happen?
Lunar eclipses only happen a few times per year. In order for a lunar eclipse to happen, the Earth, moon and sun must be aligned.
“That doesn't happen every month because the orbit of the moon around the Earth is a little bit tilted. It’s about 5 degrees,” Salas said. “That’s why we don’t have a lunar eclipse every month, which makes it special because they are very unique.”
The Leonids meteor shower Nov. 17–18
This year's next big meteor shower is the Leonids, which usually produces 10–15 meteors per hour. Once again, the best time to view is past midnight. The expected peak is from late night Nov. 17 until dawn Nov. 18.
Salas says to be sure you are outside when the shower hits. It does not last as long as the lunar eclipse.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth travels into debris left by a comet trail. This debris then heats up as it hits the atmosphere, producing the light streaks we see as a meteor shower.
“Meteorites are trickier to see because you are capturing the glimpse of starlight,” Salas said. “Look towards the constellation of Leo.”
Salas recommends using only the human eye to view meteorites, as they come from various directions. The shower gets its name because most meteorites come from the direction of Leo.
There are plenty of ways to stargaze
Whether you're at home or at an observatory, stargazing is fun for everyone. Check out Sommers-Bausch Observatory for more information and viewing opportunities. Fiske Planetarium also has information about astronomy, meteor showers and more! They put on various shows and tickets can be purchased here.
Salas, operations manager for the planetarium, has spent 27 years at the planetarium where he began working as a CU student. Tito has been interested in astronomy and stargazing since he was a child. Now, he gets to share that passion and knowledge with all Fiske Planetarium visitors.