Back Sky Affair - Blood Moon Eclipse 

Oklahomans can witness a vibrant eclipse on May 15.

click to enlarge The moon photographed during the Lunar Eclipse on April 15, 2014.

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The moon photographed during the Lunar Eclipse on April 15, 2014.

Oklahoma night skies are due to be graced once again with a full blood moon eclipse on May 15. This time, however, we won’t have to stay up until the wee hours to catch it.

Like celestial clockwork, these eclipses occur twice annually but aren’t visible everywhere across the globe, nor do they always cover the entire moon’s face (the last visible one here occurred in November). This particular eclipse will give us the complete show in Oklahoma as, from our perspective, the full “flower moon,” so named due to the abundance of plants blooming across the northern hemisphere this time of year, will be visible just after dusk.

This event commences far earlier and will be much more conveniently viewable by those on regular sleep schedules. While the entire event does indeed begin during twilight and will close right before 2 a.m. on May 16, the highlight of any eclipse is totality, when the moon’s face is completely immersed within Earth’s shadow and refraction of our sun’s light by way of dust particles scattered in our atmosphere causes the full face of the moon to take on a rusty tinge, colloquially known as a “blood moon.”

Totality will occur just before 10:30 p.m. and last nearly an hour and a half, ending about ten minutes before midnight and with peak totality occurring at 11:11 p.m. Though last November’s blood moon eclipse was notable for its duration, its peak totality occurred after 3 a.m., somewhat inconveniently for those on a 9-to-5 schedule.

When thinking about the basics of lunar eclipses — how the moon orbits the Earth in a roughly monthly cycle and lies along Earth’s same orbital path around the sun — it begs the question why these type of eclipses don’t happen every thirty days or so, as opposed to every six months. This is due to a slight discrepancy of the planes of the gravitationally-bound orbits of Earth and the moon; our moon’s orbit is inclined over five degrees from the plane of the Earth’s orbit around our sun, or ecliptic. Hence, the moon enters Earth’s shadow from our perspective only twice a year rather than the twelve we might expect

Though the term “blood moon” is eschewed scientifically by astronomers, these eclipses have had a significant impact on our ancestors’ varying cultures. Often taken as omens of evil or ill fortune, or that the moon had become injured or sick, the benefits of modern science, astronomy and Newtonian mechanics allow us to enjoy the spectacle for what it truly is, rather than what we fear it may be. The spheres simply roll on, unconscious of us and our human ordeals. Here’s to truth, and getting the facts.

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Ryan Spencer

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