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Clouds may block rare lunar eclipse in Southwest Michigan

It’s called a “blood Beaver Moon” and it’s the longest partial lunar eclipse of the century. It’s happening in the wee hours of the morning Friday. And if you miss it this time, you’re out of luck. This celestial event won’t happen again until the year 2669.

Traveling across the earth’s shadow will take the moon almost three-and-a-half hours. That’s an unusually long and rare event. The last time a partial lunar eclipse was longer occurred in 1440 – 581 years ago.

Eric Schreur is a Kalamazoo amateur astronomer, and my neighbor.  He said people have accurately predicted eclipses since ancient times. 

Photo of Eric Schreur in his home observatory.
Credit Leona Larson
Kalamazoo amateur astronomer, Eric Schreur, in his home observatory.

“The mechanics of how our universe works, really do work because we can predict eclipses exactly,” said Schreur. “By being able to predict them so precisely, it gives us confidence in our understanding of the way the planets and the objects in our solar system move around.”

Scheur explained why it is called a “blood Beaver Moon.” 

“The native American people had given names to the various moons during the course of the year to help them keep track of the seasons,” said Scheur. “This is the time of the year when beavers are getting active, finishing up their lodges, getting things ready for surviving the winter months.”

Scheur said it’s a “blood moon” because of its red appearance. It’s caused by the Earth, which is blocking the sun’s rays from hitting the moon directly. What light does gets through is filtered by the Earth's atmosphere, and appears as red on the moon's surface.”

The big question is will we be able to see “the blood Beaver Moon” in Southwest Michigan?  Schreur said that’s actually a two-part question:

“The first part is does the event take place at a time and a location where we could see it? If the sky was clear, that’s the second part of the question. What’s the sky going to be like? So, the eclipse is going to be visible across the United States.”

That’s good news for the first part of the question. Schreur said the most dramatic display is between 2:30 A-M and 4 A-M. If you are lucky, you may get to see a full moon turn red in the early morning hours Friday – if there’s a break in the clouds. That’s because Southwest Michigan will likely see 80% cloud coverage overnight. So, the answer to the second part of the question is that it looks like it could be a bad night for stargazing.

You can stream the eclipse online from the warmth of your home. While there are lots of places live streaming the rare event, the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society recommends the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.  You can stay up late or get up early to watch it live, or watch a time-lapse version later on.   The time-lapse version should be available on the Griffith Observatory’s YouTube Channel by 9:00 a.m. EST, Friday.