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When to Watch the Lunar Eclipse in May

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Photo: Chris Harwood (Shutterstock)

If you ever gaze up at the full moon and think, “It’s OK, I guess, but when does it do something?” May is your month. Most of North America will be treated to a full lunar eclipse, a complete “blood moon,” this month. You can watch the entire show in most of North America, all of South America and Western Africa, and parts of Western Europe late on May 15 and into May 16.

A complete schedule for watching May’s lunar eclipse

If everything goes according to plan—and we’d all better hope it does—the eclipse will happen at the following times in the following stages:

  • May 15 at 9:31 p.m. ET: The penumbral eclipse begins. This is when the earth’s shadow first passes before the moon.
  • May 15 at 10:27 p.m. ET: The partial eclipse begins. This is the moon entering the darkest part of Earth’s shadow.
  • May 16 at 12:02 a.m. ET: Maximum eclipse! This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, when the eclipse is total!
  • May 16 at 12:53 a.m. ET: End of the total eclipse.
  • May 16 at 1:54 a.m. ET: End of the partial eclipse.
  • May 16 at 2:52 a.m. ET: End of the penumbral eclipse. The moon is back to normal, and everyone smokes a cigarette after all that lunar excitement.

What is a lunar eclipse, anyway?

A lunar eclipse is when the shadow of Earth passes before the moon and briefly darkens it. Eclipses can be partial, when only some of Earth’s shadow darkens the moon, or full, when the entire moon is darkened by Earth’s shadow. The moon doesn’t totally disappear, though. Light from Earth’s sunsets and sunrises still manage to reach the lunar surface, and those stretched-out lightwaves make the moon appear red. We call that the Blood Moon.

Do I need eye protection to watch a lunar eclipse?

Unlike a solar eclipse, you can watch a lunar eclipse without any eye protection.

Why is May’s moon called “The Flower Moon?”

Names of the moons are unofficial and are based on the lunar calendars used by Native Americans. May’s “Flower Moon” moniker comes to us from the Algonquin peoples, and is based on (you guessed it) the fact that flowers bloom in May.

Most Native American groups named May’s moon for the return of spring. The Cree called it “The Budding Moon,” for the local plants. The Dakota called it the “Planting Moon,” as it’s a good time to plant. My favorite name for May’s moon comes from the Ogala, who called it the descriptive and evocative “Shedding Pony Moon.”

Are there any interesting historical events that involve lunar eclipses?

I’m glad you asked! Back in 1504, that old bastard Christopher Columbus was stranded in present-day Jamaica. His ships were damaged in a storm, and his crew were surviving largely due to the charity of the Arawak people. But tension rose between the groups. The unwanted houseguests overstayed their welcome by stealing from their hosts and killing some of them, so the Arawak said “no more” and stopped bring food to Columbus and his crew.

Facing starvation and maybe death at the hands of the angry Arawaks, Columbus met with the head of the group and said, “Listen: God is angry at you because you won’t keep bringing us food. He’s so mad, he’s going to turn the moon red in a couple of nights.”

I’m sure they laughed him out of the room, but unbeknownst to the Arawak, Columbus had consulted an astronomy text and knew an eclipse was going to happen on the night he’d predicted.

When the night of the eclipse arrived, the moon indeed rose red, and the Arawak pleaded with Columbus to intercede with his god. Columbus (the lying bastard) pretended he’d convinced god to spare the Arawak, timing his prayers with the exact moments of full eclipse. The moon went back to normal and the impressed Arawak continued to feed the lazy invaders until they were rescued several months later.

This story almost reads like historical myth, but it really happened—according to Christopher Columbus’ son’s account of the voyage, anyway. He probably wasn’t clever enough to invent this story whole cloth, and the dates of the eclipse match the date’s of Columbus’ (the jerk) voyage.

A random moon fact

In the second century, the Roman author Lucian wrote (maybe) the first science fiction story. In A True Story, explorers on a ship sail into space and get caught in the middle of a war between the moon and the sun.

   


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