What’s Up: Finding Sgr A* and a Total Lunar Eclipse

May 13, 2022 | Daily Space, Moon, Sky Watching, Supermassive Black Holes

IMAGE: Location of the galactic center in Sagittarius, using the Summer Triangle aphorism as a finding guide. CREDIT: Beth Johnson/Stellarium

Remarkably, the news about Sgr A* came out at a time of year when you can actually go outside and look at the center of our galaxy. If you go outside after midnight, the constellation Sagittarius can be seen rising on the horizon. The exact location will vary depending on where you are, but for most of us in North America, it is in the southeast.

For me, the easiest way to find the center of the galaxy is to look for the bright summer triangle of Altair, Vega, and Deneb, and remember that Deneb’s constellation – Cygnus the Swan – is flying along the Milky Way. Arc along this faint glow of stars toward the east, look for the teapot of Sagittarius below the arc, and where the spout points up, Sgr A* is hiding. If you have binoculars, this is a truly spectacular area of the sky to wander through while relaxing in a hammock. Just remember to bring some bug spray.

There has been a drought of interesting things to look for in the night sky for most of 2022, with few exceptions. Now, finally, we have something fun to observe. This week’s What’s Up is a total lunar eclipse.

There are three types of eclipses. A solar eclipse is when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. A lunar eclipse is when the Earth passes between the Moon and the Sun. An apocalypse is when the Sun passes between the Earth and the Moon, at least according to Dr. Katie Mack.

IMAGE: A sequence of three images shows the totally eclipsed Moon on September 27, 2015, along with the Moon’s appearance during the partial eclipse before (right) and afterward (left). CREDIT: Sean Walker

On the evening of May 15, the entirety of the total lunar eclipse will be visible from most of the U.S. east of the Mississippi and all of South America. The rest of the U.S. will be able to see less of the eclipse due to the later rising of the Moon, but most people will still be able to see the peak of it.

One of the interesting features of a total lunar eclipse is the color. The Moon’s surface appears red at the peak of an eclipse because the light from the Sun has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and been scattered so that only the redder parts hit the Moon. The degree to which this effect happens depends on the amount of the Moon eclipsed. Because this is a total eclipse, the red color should be pronounced. That is if it is not covered by clouds.

The eclipse will start at about 22:00 Central Time, with the peak happening about twelve minutes after midnight. The total eclipse ends at 00:54, and the last scraps of the shadow will be gone by 01:30 Central Time on May 16. The Moon is safe to look directly at, even during an eclipse, so feel free to turn your eyes to the sky this weekend and enjoy the show.

We’ll have links to more information, including various starting times by time zone, on our website, DailySpace.org. If you end up with clear skies and take pictures of this eclipse, we ask that you please share them on social media and tag us @cosmoquestx.

More Information

What’s Up: Finding Sgr A*

The Teapot guides you to the galactic center (EarthSky)

What’s Up: Total lunar eclipse

Sunday Night’s Total Lunar Eclipse (Sky & Telescope)

PDF: The May 15, 2022 Total Eclipse of the Moon (Andrew Fraknoi)

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