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2022, May 15: Lunar Eclipse, Morning Planet Gems

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Photo Caption – Lunar Eclipse, May 15, 2022.

May 15, 2022: Look for a spectacular perigee lunar eclipse after sunset.  This occurs between the Scorpion’s pincers and forehead.  Before sunrise, four bright planets are in the eastern sky.

Animation showing a total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA Goddard Media Studios

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 5:34 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:04 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

A total lunar eclipse is visible across western Europe, western Africa, and most of the Americas.

Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse is visible from over half of Earth’s surface, everywhere it is above the horizon.  In contrast, a solar eclipse is visible from a narrow swath of Earth’s surface.

Lunar Eclipse (NASA Photo)

Additionally, no special equipment or filters are needed to observe the moon in eclipse.  A binocular is helpful to see the copper or red color on the moon.

The moon is 1.5 days from its perigee point – closest to Earth.  Sometimes such full moons are called supermoons, although the moon is only 14% larger than the average full moon, and hardly noticeable to the unaided eye. 

The coppery color of the eclipse may evoke names, such as “blood moon.”  In combination, the perigee lunar eclipse brings out a mouthful, such as “super blood moon.”

During these eclipses, the moon moves through Earth’s shadow, losing the sunlight that illuminates its surface.

Lunar Eclipse (NASA Photo)

Earth’s shadow, when it is projected into the sky, is made of two concentric circles.  The outer ring is known as the penumbra.  Some sunlight reaches this region.  When the moon is there, not much change is visible in the lunar brightness.

When the moon reaches the inner circle, the umbra, sunlight is completely blocked by Earth.  Sometimes the moon dips partly into the umbra and the remainder is in the penumbra.  This is a partial eclipse.

Photo Caption – 2019, January 20: A lunar eclipse.

The umbra is not completely dark. Bluer colors of sunlight are filtered by the atmosphere while redder colors penetrate the air and are bent into the shadow by atmospheric lensing effects.

Depending on the dust in the atmosphere, the moon looks red or coppery, although the moon may disappear.  These effects are impossible to predict until the eclipse occurs.

During this evening’s eclipse, the moon moves into the umbral shadow completely.  The passage is reasonably slow.  The best part of the eclipse show lasts 86 minutes.

Here are the events of the evening from the Chicago region.  For other regions the UTC times are included as well.

Lunar Eclipse May 15, 2022  
EventChicago (CDT)UTC (May 16, 2022)
Moonrise7:50 p.m.Check local resources
Moon enters penumbra8:31 p.m.01:31
Penumbral darkening appears*9:11 p.m.02:11
Partial eclipse begins9:27 p.m.02:27
Total eclipse Begins10:28 p.m.03:28
Maximum eclipse11:11 p.m.04:11
Total eclipse ends11:54 p.m.04:54
Partial eclipse ends12:55 p.m.05:55
Moon exits penumbra1:52 a.m.06:52

*The Observer’s Handbook 2022, predicts that at 9:11 p.m. CDT (02:11 UTC) is the first time to see that the penumbral phase of the eclipse is occurring.  This is an estimate and the effect could be observed a few minutes before or after this time.

Chicago notes:  The moon enters the penumbra when the lunar orb is only 5° up in the east-southeast.

During the total eclipse, the moon is over 20° up in the south-southeast.

There’s more about what to look for in the sky during the eclipse in the Evening Sky section of this article.

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

Chart Caption – 2022, May 15: The four morning planets are stretched along the eastern horizon before sunrise.

The star Fomalhaut is making its first morning appearance before sunrise, the heliacal rising.  The star is near the southeast horizon at 45 minutes before sunrise.  Each morning, it is higher in the sky.  Note that it is 22.0° to the lower left of Saturn.

During the next several months, watch Fomalhaut somewhat mirror Saturn’s westward migration.  Unlike Venus that outruns Earth’s revolution around the sun, Saturn’s slow eastward gait is nearly negated by our planet’s speed.

Generally, Saturn follows the westward migration of the seasonal stars, which rise shortly before sunrise.  Each day, they rise about four minutes earlier and appear higher in the eastern sky before sunrise.  Within a few months they are in the south around sunup, then in the western sky at that time.

The stars move into the evening sky, rising around sunset.  Weeks after their sunset rising, they are in the south at sunset and then in the western sky around sundown, only to disappear in to bright twilight and then reappear in the eastern sky before sunrise a few months later.

Saturn generally follows this pattern, except that it seems to move westward compared to the starfield, when Earth passes between the planet and the sun.  After its solar conjunction and reappearance in the eastern sky, it seems to jump farther eastward along the plane of the solar system, repeating the pattern year after year.

Jupiter mirrors Saturn’s pattern, although it seems to jump farther eastward after its solar conjunction.

Mars moves at about half the speed of Earth, so it seems to hang around in the eastern sky after its solar conjunction and slowly move westward with the migrating stars as it approaches its opposition.

In addition to Fomalhaut and Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars are strung out along the eastern sky.

Mars is over 17° up in the east-southeast, 27.9° to the lower left of Saturn and 8.0° to the upper right of bright Jupiter. The Red Planet catches and passes Mars at month’s end.

Venus, over 8° above the eastern horizon, is 13.8° to the lower left of Jupiter.

With Saturn’s westward migration and Venus’ fast eastward motion, the Venus – Saturn gap is 49.7°, an opening about one degree each day.

As the seasons progress, look for Fomalhaut to the lower left of Saturn.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, May 15: The eclipsed moon is between the Scorpion’s pincers and forehead.

At the time of the maximum total lunar eclipse (11:11 p.m. CDT), the moon is in the south-southeastern sky in front of the stars of Libra.

Libra was once part of Scorpius.  The names of its bright stars, Zubenelgenubi – “the northern claw,” and Zubeneschamali – “the southern claw,” indicate this association.  This stellar pair is to the upper right of the eclipsed moon.

The lunar orb is to the upper right of Dschubba, meaning “the forehead.

Antares – meaning “the rival of Mars” – marks the Scorpion’s heart.

The eclipsed moon is firmly in the clutches of the Scorpion’s pincers and about to be eaten by the celestial arachnid.

The Scorpion is crawling across the southeastern horizon, pincers outstretched toward the sky, but its tail and stinger are yet to rise.

Watching the eclipse from moonrise until its conclusion is an experience of seeing a bright moon’s light obliterate the dimmer stars until it gradually fades, revealing very dim celestial wonders.  The bright moon light returns as the moon exits the penumbra again overwhelming the light of the dimmer cosmic objects.

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