'Pink' Full Moon Brings Lunar Eclipse Thursday

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'Pink' Full Moon Brings Lunar Eclipse Thursday
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Amateur astrophotographer Rhys Harris of Bodmin, Cornwall, England sent in a photo of the March 2013 full moon. He writes: "I managed to snatch this image last night [March 27, 2013] in light polluted skies!"

This month's full moon, which falls on Thursday (April 25), always reminds me of one of the first times I viewed the April full moon

When I was very young boy living in New York, there was a popular television weathercaster by the name of Carol Reed. While not a meteorologist, she had an upbeat personality and always finished her reports with what became her personal catch phrase: "And have a happy!"

One evening, Carol commented that it would be clear for everyone to get a good view of that night's "pink" full moon. When it got dark, my mother accompanied me outside expecting to see a salmon-colored moon, but all we saw was a full moon that looked the way it always did: yellowish-white with not a hint of pink.

While I don't recall the year of this episode, I can state most definitely that it took place in the month of April, since many years later I learned that traditionally the full moon of April is called the "pink moon," a reference made to the grass pink or wild ground phlox which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring season. [How 2013's Full Moons Got Their Peculiar Names]

So on Thursday night, when you look skyward at this year's version of the "pink" April full moon, remember not to take the term literally!

A bit of an eclipse

While this month's full moon may not look pink, if you live in Europe, Africa or much of Asia, you will notice something a bit different about it, because it will take place on the night of a lunar eclipse.   

Unfortunately, in North America, none of this eclipse will be visible, since the actual instant of full moon occurs on Thursday afternoon (April 25), when the moon is below the horizon.

Beginning at 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT), the moon begins to meet the Earth's shadow; a little over two hours later it arrives under the middle of that shadow. By then the moon will have just risen and will be visible low to the east-southeast horizon as seen from Ireland, and will be setting over south-central Japan in the morning hours of Friday, April 26.

Feeble at best

If we were to rank a total eclipse of the moon as a first-rate event, then what is scheduled to be seen on Thursday for those living in the Eastern Hemisphere would almost certainly fall into the third- or even fourth-rate category; in fact it might add new meaning to the term "underwhelming."

During the first 110-minutes of the eclipse, the moon's northern hemisphere pushes ever-so-gradually into the Earth's partial shadow, called the penumbra. The outer two-thirds of this are too subtle to detect; but then perhaps by 3:30 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT) you may realize you are beginning to detect the ever-so-slight gradient of a soft grey darkening around the top of the moon. 

At 3:54 p.m. EDT (1954 GMT), the moon's northern limb finally makes contact with a much more abrupt shadow, the blackish-brown umbra. This chord of shadow on the moon grows and retreats over a span of less than half an hour; yet at its deepest at 4:07 p.m. EDT (2007 GMT), the partial eclipse will reach its peak at a puny 1.48 percent as the moon's northern (upper) limb literally grazes the umbral shadow and remains in contact with it until 4:21 p.m. EDT (2021 GMT).  

This dark shadow's coverage can be described as feeble at best. To the unaided eye, even to those with acute visual skills, it will hardly cause a perceptible dent on the lunar disk. However, anyone who glances up at the moon around that time will likely notice that the uppermost part of the disk of the moon will appear smudged or tarnished. This effect will probably fade away by around 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), with the moon appearing as its normal self. Officially, though, the moon will not completely free itself from the outer penumbral shadow until 6:11 p.m. EDT (2211 GMT).

In spite of the fact that this isn't much of an eclipse, I suspect that more than a few skywatchers across the big pond will still take time out to watch it. That is, after all what a true amateur astronomer is: patient, undemanding, and willing to accept even the smallest crumbs from the star tables.

Oh — and have a happy! 

Editor's note: If you have an amazing picture of the full moon or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

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