LEHMAN TOWNSHIP — Ancient peoples may have cowered in fear and worried the gods were angry when they saw the moon loom especially large. Or turn red. Or disappear.
On Sept. 27, astronomers predict the moon will appear to perform all three of those tricky maneuvers, but local residents needn’t worry. They can relax and attend a Supermoon Total Eclipse Party at Penn State/Wilkes-Barre’s Friedman Observatory, an event so family-friendly it includes a coloring contest for children.
The full moon will appear as a “supermoon,” or especially large version of itself, on that day because it will be at a point in its orbit when it is especially close to Earth. That evening, the sun, Earth and moon will move into alignment and the Earth’s shadow eventually will cover the moon. A partial eclipse begins at 9:07 p.m. and the total eclipse will follow at 10:11 p.m.
“It’s very rare when all of these things happen at once,” said Violet Mager, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Penn State, noting people can expect the moon to take on the reddish hue of a “blood moon” as it moves into the darkness of total eclipse.
“The best way to see it is with the naked eye,” Mager said, adding the Friedman Observatory’s large telescope likely will be trained on other aspects of the night sky, such as planets, because if it was focused on the moon “you wouldn’t see the whole thing.”
Mager grew up in Colorado, where the night skies are fairly dark. “You can see so many stars, it’s unbelievable,” she said.
Northeastern Pennsylvania astronomy buffs see comparatively fewer stars, but still, she said, Lehman Township skies are darker than, say, the view from Wilkes-Barre or Scranton. “Unless the high school has a football game.”
“This Moon is also special because it is a Harvest Moon, which is the closest full moon to the Autumnal Equinox,” Mager said. “Additionally, this eclipse is special because it is the last in a series of four in a row occuring every six months, a lunar tetrad.”
Mager is aware of websites that claim supernatural significance to the timing of the four eclipses of the tetrad because they coincide with Jewish holidays, such as Sept. 27 being the eve of Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths. “It’s just a natural phenomenon,” she said, adding it’s to be expected that lunar eclipses would coincide with Jewish holidays because the Jewish calendar is lunar.
If the night is too cloudy to see the moon on Sept. 27, the party will move indoors to the Bell Center for Technology for a live broadcast of the eclipse from a location with a clearer sky.
The last occurrence of a total eclipse of a supermoon was 1982, and the next one will not occur until 2033.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109.
IF YOU GO
What: Supermoon Total Eclipse Party
When: 9 p.m. Sept. 27 to approximately midnight
Where: Friedman Observatory, Penn State Wilkes-Barre Campus, 1269 Old Route 115, Lehman Township
Info: 570-675-9269 or [email protected]