Lake County Skies: Get 'Un-mooned' in February!

Lake County Skies on Feb. 20, 2008, at 8 p.m.


‘Un-Mooned’? Is there such a word in our language? Probably not. But in Lake County Skies, the full Moon, visible during the evening of the 20th, will slowly disappear, and then reappear.

That will happen because there is a total eclipse of the Moon that evening. Our star chart shows where this will occur – notice that the Moon will be close to the planet Saturn.

Here’s an animation of what a total eclipse looks like.




Notice in the animation that the Moon does not completely disappear. When the eclipse is full, you can still see the Moon, although it is much dimmer than normal.

When will this happen? Here’s a diagram from NASA that shows the times when different events during the eclipse will occur.




What causes an eclipse? It happens when the earth is between the sun and moon, and the three objects line up to where the earth’s shadow is cast upon the lunar surface. The following diagram shows this.




If the Moon is completely within the earth’s shadow, it’s a total eclipse. But if it’s in only a portion of the earth’s shadow, it’s a partial eclipse.

An eclipse of the moon happens at least twice a year, but the next total eclipse won’t happen until 2010.

Speaking of the Moon, Native Americans had names for the full Moon in each month to help identify the seasons. Some of these names, from the Algonquin tribes in the eastern US, were: Full Wolf Moon (January), Full Snow Moon (February), Full Worm Moon (March) and Full Pink Moon (April).

Aside from the lunar eclipse being the star of February’s celestial show, the planets Mars and Saturn are visible, as shown on our star chart. The constellation of Leo the Lion is rising in the east, and Ursa Major (the Big Bear), which contains the Big Dipper, is again becoming visible.

For more information about astronomy and local astronomy-related events, visit the Taylor Observatory website at

On Feb. 9, starting at 8 p.m., the observatory will be open to the public. The topic for the evening is “From Stonehenge to Hubble,” a presentation that traces the history of astronomy.

John Zimmerman has been an amateur astronomer for 50 years. He is a member of the Taylor Observatory staff, where, among his many duties, he helps create planetarium shows.