After a drought of more than three years, we can finally look forward to a total lunar eclipse on the night of May 15-16. This will only be the second such eclipse visible from Quebec since September 2015, the last one dating back to January 2019.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s disc passes through the Earth’s umbral shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, the lunar phenomenon is visible to everyone who can see the Moon. Another notable difference is that lunar eclipses are safe to view directly with the naked eye or through a telescope.
The Moon does not completely disappear during totality because a small portion of sunlight is filtered and refracted by Earth’s atmosphere. This red light is what reaches the surface of our satellite and causes the Moon to take on the characteristic orangey red hue of lunar eclipses, making it one of the most beautiful natural phenomena you could ever observe.
That’s the show we can look forward to on the night of May 15-16. The eclipse begins at 9:32 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) on the evening of the 15th, when the Moon enters the Earth’s penumbra. At this stage, however, the change in brightness is very subtle and difficult to detect with the naked eye.
The show really gets exciting by 10:27 p.m., when the Moon gradually enters the Earth’s umbral shadow, marking the start of the partial phases. At this point, we’ll be able to detect a darkening along the left part of the lunar disc. After a few minutes, we’ll see that dark shadow slowly creep across the face of our satellite.
But the real showstopper happens at 11:29 p.m., when the Moon is completely immersed in Earth’s umbra and takes on a magnificent reddish hue. At the eclipse’s maximum (at 12:11 a.m.), the Moon will be visible 23 degrees above the south-southeastern horizon.
Totality ends at 12:54 a.m., after which the Moon begins exiting the umbra and the partial phases play out in reverse. The partial eclipse ends at 1:55 a.m. and the penumbral phases at 2:51 a.m.
The planets in May
The noteworthy planetary meetups begin on April 30 and May 1, when Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets, will be only ½ a degree from each other. Admire this must-see duo above the eastern horizon at dawn, about one hour before sunrise. On April 30, dazzling Venus will be to the right of Jupiter. The next day, Venus will glide below and slightly to the left of the gas giant.
In the early evening of May 2, 45 minutes after sunset, we’ll by treated to a lovely alignment of three different celestial bodies, low on the west-northwestern horizon. First is the very thin crescent Moon that can be found higher and to the left of Mercury, which itself lies slightly higher and to the left of the Pleiades star cluster. The three will form a straight line in the sky; binoculars will allow you to catch a better glimpse of this sight. It’ll also be a wonderful opportunity to spot Mercury, which is nearing the end of a favourable apparition in the evening sky that began in April.
By late May, the Moon will visit the planets in the morning sky, a series of encounters that will be visible above the eastern horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise. On the morning of May 22, the last quarter Moon will lie 5 degrees below Saturn. On May 24 at dawn, the waning crescent Moon will hang to the right of the Jupiter-Mars duo; Jupiter is the brighter of the two, while Mars is recognizable by its red hue. The next morning, on May 25, the Moon will appear below and slightly to the left of Jupiter.
About 20 degrees to the left of the Jupiter-Mars duo, you’ll spot the very brilliant planet Venus. On May 27, the crescent Moon will lie 3 degrees to the left of the Morning Star.
And what better way to end the month than with a close conjunction between Jupiter and Mars? In the early morning hours of May 29, the two planets will hang a mere half a degree apart, with Jupiter above Mars.