After a long celestial drought, Oklahomans finally get to see a total lunar eclipse.
The last time anyone on Earth had an opportunity to witness a total lunar eclipse occurred Dec. 10, 2011. That one was visible in Australia, China and Southeast Asia. The last time Oklahomans had an opportunity to see one was almost a year prior, Dec. 21, 2010. According to Weather Underground (www.wunderground.com), Oklahoma City experienced “scattered clouds” during the entire time frame of that eclipse. From my house, I could occasionally glimpse the moon through holes in the clouds, never for more than a few seconds.
For the total lunar eclipse visible from Oklahoma before that, Feb. 21, 2008, our skies were overcast. Ditto for the total lunar eclipses of Oct. 28, 2004; May 16, 2003; Jan 21, 2000; and, well, you get the idea. In fact, you’ll have to go back to Nov. 29, 1993, for the last total lunar eclipse where the weather here in Oklahoma cooperated throughout the entire event.
We get another shot at seeing an entire lunar eclipse — a pretty decent one — on April 15. The moon hits the edge of Earth’s shadow at 12:58 a.m. Totality begins at 2:06 a.m., with the deepest eclipse occurring at 2:46 a.m. The moon just misses the center of our planet’s shadow, and hence the deepest possible lunar eclipse, but, considering we have had none to see with cloudless skies for more than 20 years, this one should be pretty dramatic.
The weather for this eclipse appears promising. According to WeatherSpark, the sky on April 15 in Oklahoma City is mostly clear: “The median cloud cover ranges from 10 percent (mostly clear) to 39 percent (mostly clear).” And the timing of this eclipse seems particularly fortuitous for this date because: “At midnight, the clearest time of the day, the sky is clear, mostly clear, or partly cloudy 68 percent of the time, and overcast or mostly cloudy 32 percent of the time.” So when the eclipse begins, the cloud cover is typically at a minimum for that date. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll have to wait until Jan. 21, 2019, for the next total lunar eclipse over Oklahoma. But here’s the date to circle on your calendar: Aug. 21, 2017. A total eclipse of the sun passes right through the middle of the United States, just a bit north of Oklahoma. Plan a trip to St. Louis, or Lincoln, Neb., to see that total solar eclipse. And hope for clear skies.
•The Vernal Equinox, the beginning of spring, occurred March 20. The first full moon after that will occur April 15, a Tuesday. The Sunday after that, April 20, is Easter. And now you understand why Easter varies from year to year. It is the only major Christian holiday whose date is determined by astronomy: the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.
•You can be informed of all things astronomical in the daily presentations of “Tonight’s Sky” in the Kirkpatrick Planetarium Star Theater. Call 602-3761 or log on to the website at sciencemuseumok.org for more information.
•The Oklahoma City Astronomy Club meets at Science Museum Oklahoma on April 11. Guests are welcome. Visit the club’s webpage at okcastroclub.com for details about the club’s various activities.
•Planet Visibility Report: Jupiter has been our lone planetary visitor to the evening sky for more than a month. But Mars, which has been lurking just an hour or two below the horizon, finally joins Jupiter in the evening sky. And Saturn, now hovering just above eastern horizon at 10 p.m., joins them. Venus and Mercury shine in the eastern morning twilight, but Mercury has already started its dive toward the sun, while Venus remains the brilliant “Morning Star” all month. Full moon occurs during the total lunar eclipse, with new moon following on April 29. That new moon passes in front of the sun, creating a solar eclipse, but unless you live in Antarctica or western Australia, you won’t see it.