We are in for a rare astronomical treat this month. On December 10, early in the morning hours, we are going to experience a total lunar eclipse.
This eclipse favours western and northern Canada for a change, and we will be able to see all 51 minutes of totality.
To view this eclipse you will need an observing site that has transparent skies, no light pollution and a clear, unobstructed view to the west.
The total eclipse starts at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday morning with an umbral (partial) eclipse. Total eclipse begins at 6:06 a.m. with mid-totality at 6:32 a.m. The total eclipse ends at 6:57 a.m., with the last part of the eclipse ending at 8:18 a.m.
Weather permitting and morning sky clear, we will also have an opportunity to see a rare spectacle.
During the final moments of the eclipse, with the moon resting on the northwest horizon, you will see a dark blue band running across the western horizon. This is Earth’s shadow being reflected back onto its atmosphere. As the moon sets it will appear to pass through this band, presenting another amazing view.
All eclipses, partial or full, present great photo opportunities. This eclipse takes place close to the horizon in the twilight skies, meaning that we are viewing this eclipse looking through the maximum amount of atmosphere.
This will make close up or high power telephoto shots next to impossible.
As an added bonus, if you are shooting with a 24 mm lens you will be able to capture the constellation of Orion on one side and the Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters) on the other side.
On your camera, set the ISO to 400 and the exposure for 10 to 30 seconds, using a lens set at f2.8. With an old barn, fence or snow covered tree, there is everything here to make a memorable photo.
Another interesting shot would be to use a high power telephoto lens, say 400 to 500 mm, and take a picture of the setting eclipsed moon while it is half above and half below the horizon. (I don’t know if this could be done, but what a great shot that would make.)
Get out and see this eclipse if you can. There will not be another total lunar eclipse in 2012 or in 2013 visible from Earth.
Of the few partial eclipses viewable in the next few years, the best we can expect is a mere 37 percent in shadow. This partial eclipse takes place in the morning hours on June 4, 2012, and should be visible in the Yukon.
The Geminid meteor shower – another great astronomical event that requires no special gear – can be seen on December 13 and will peak December 14.
The moon will not be rising from the horizon until after 9 p.m., giving us at least a few hours of observing the meteor shower without the moonlight washing all but the brightest of meteors from view.
The Geminid meteors appear to radiate from the constellation of Gemini, found in the eastern evening sky, to the left of the constellation of Orion. In 2012 there will be no moon in the night sky, making it an awesome experience next year.
Let’s hope the weather will clear off for us then as well.
Another excellent sight from western Canada and the Yukon: a double transit on Jupiter. If you have access to a telescope this is definitely for you.
On December 27 around 7:55 p.m. two of Jupiter’s moons, Europa and Ganymede, will leave shadows as they cross the face of the giant planet. It is not uncommon to see one of Jupiter’s moons leave a shadow. With two shadows, it is much more interesting, as the two black circles slowly cross the planet.
On December 26 in the early evening hours, the crescent moon and Venus make a nice pairing in the night sky. This is an excellent photo opportunity and is a great view in binoculars, spotting scope or telescope.
So take some time this holiday season, and dust off your binoculars or telescope. Dress properly for the arctic blast of cold weather, and head outside to see all the amazing celestial events happening in those amazing Yukon Night Skies.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at email@example.com. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.