How to watch the blood moon total lunar eclipse in the Bay Area

The sunset in the Bay Area this Sunday will come with a rare gift: a blood moon, during a total lunar eclipse.

Also, since the moon will be near its perigee, or closest point to Earth, it will also be considered a “supermoon.”

And in May, the Old Farmer’s Almanac refers to the full moon as the “flower moon,” citing Native American, Colonial American, and other traditional North American sources for the term in recognition of the abundance of spring flowers.

All of that adds up to a “super flower blood moon.” So, there’s a lot going on here, but any way you look at it, the event promises to be a Bay Area spectacular.

The moon will already be in a partial eclipse when it rises over the West Coast at 8:06 p.m., just four minutes before sunset. The total eclipse begins at 8:30 p.m. and lasts until 9:54 p.m., with the subsequent partial eclipse ending around 10:50 p.m., said Andrew Fraknoi, chairman emeritus of Foothill College’s astronomy department.

So while it won’t be completely dark when the moon first rises, it will be one of the rare times that a full total eclipse will be seen from the West Coast.

“We’ll miss some of the early parts of the eclipse where the shadow moves slowly across the face of the full moon, but the kids will be able to see it (because it’s early in the evening),” Fraknoi said. “There is a price to pay, but a very nice reward.”

Viewing the eclipse requires no special equipment, but if you want the clearest view in the Bay Area, consider heading to a higher elevation point like Twin Peaks.

“It’s very democratic: no special equipment or expensive telescopes are needed. All you need is your eyes,” Fraknoi said.

A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth is between the sun and the moon, and the moon moves through Earth’s shadow. The total eclipse occurs when the entire moon falls into Earth’s umbra, the darkest part of its shadow, according to NASA.

However, the moon is not totally obscured. Some of the sunlight reaches the moon after passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, where air pollution acts as a prism, causing the moon to appear red, hence the nickname “blood moon.”

On Sunday, the moon will rise from the southeastern horizon, darkening and redder as it rises in the sky.

“Earth’s shadow is not completely dark because refracted red light passing through the atmosphere enters the darkest part of Earth’s shadow and produces that red color,” said Gerald McKeegan, associate astronomer at the Chabot Space and Science Center. in Oakland.

It’s rare to see an early evening total lunar eclipse in the Bay Area: the next one occurs in early November, but it will be visible on the West Coast only between 1 and 6 a.m.

There’s another bonus for skygazers: the darkened moon can make it easier to spot bright stars and planets in the sky, like Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. The moon will be in the constellation Libra when the eclipse occurs.

Keep in mind, however, that even though it’s a “supermoon,” it won’t appear visibly larger to the naked eye, Fraknoi said. Although the supermoon is closer to Earth than a normal full moon and technically appears 7% larger, even if you could see it next to a normal moon, there would be little to no difference, he said.

May has been a busy month in the night sky, beginning with the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. A never-before-seen meteor shower called the Tau Herculids could be visible later in the month.

Gwendolyn Wu (she) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: gwendolyn.wu@sfchronicle.com

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