The night of Sunday, January 20, a total lunar eclipse will be visible from North America, including Seattle. Because the moon will be near its closest approach to Earth at the time, it’s a supermoon, which appears slightly larger in the sky than normal. That means if the weather behaves, we get to see a giant, red moon—and it’ll be pretty hard to miss.
If you’re trying to commune with this massive moon, here’s what you need to know.
How much of the lunar eclipse will we see in Seattle?
Unlike the solar eclipse in 2017, which didn’t reach totality in Seattle, the full lunar eclipse should be visible to all of North America, South America, and parts of Europe and Africa. (For those taking notes, that includes Seattle.)
When is the lunar eclipse visible in Seattle?
The first phase of the eclipse should be visible around 7:30 p.m. in Seattle, with totality beginning at 8:40 p.m. and ending at 9:45 p.m., with the whole thing over by 10:50 p.m.
Where is the lunar eclipse visible in Seattle?
Weather permitting, the moon should be rising in the east in the early evening, and will be east-southeast in the sky when the eclipse begins. But, said Julie Lutz, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University of Washington, the super-bright full moon will be “hard to miss” if the skies are clear.
What will the weather be like for the lunar eclipse?
The main thing that could get in the way of Seattleites seeing the lunar eclipse is the weather. Right now, the National Weather Service is predicting mostly-cloudy weather for Sunday evening—but cross your fingers.
What does a lunar eclipse look like?
“During totality the moon is very dim and reddish in color,” explained Lutz. “This phenomenon is caused by sunlight being bent by the Earth’s atmosphere and going on to light up the Moon’s surface a little bit.”
Essentially, it’s the atmosphere that we see—not the moon itself. “If the Earth didn’t have an atmosphere, the Moon would be entirely dark during the total phase,” said Lutz. “Of course, if the Earth didn’t have an atmosphere, we wouldn’t be here to witness the eclipse!”
After the eclipse is over, said Lutz, the moon will get brighter as it exits the shadow.
As Vox’s Joss Fong explained it, a total lunar eclipse is like projecting all the sunsets and sunrises onto the moon.
What happens during a lunar eclipse?
While it’s much less dramatic than the solar eclipse we saw a couple of summers ago, it’s still cool: every so often, the sun, moon, and Earth align perfectly with the moon in Earth’s shadow. But the alignment has to be very specific for an eclipse to occur.
“You might have noticed that eclipses... don’t occur every month,” said Lutz. “The Moon’s orbit is tilted 5 degrees with respect to the orbit of the Earth-moon system around the sun.”
Because of that slight tilt, said Lutz, “more often than not, the new and full moons are not in the right place in the sky to cover up the sun [to create a solar eclipse] or to pass through the Earth’s shadow [to create a lunar eclipse].”
When is the next lunar eclipse?
The short version: In North America, we’re not seeing another total eclipse until May 2021. But eclipses happen relatively often, although some years have more eclipses than others.
“If, when, where and what type of eclipses occur varies from year to year,” said Lutz. “Sometimes there are as few as two eclipses during a calendar year, but occasionally there are as many as seven.”
While there are five eclipses in 2019—two lunar and three solar—the January 20 eclipse is the only one we’ll be able to see from Seattle, so catch a peek if you can.