A total eclipse of the moon will take place on Sunday evening, Sept. 27, 2015, and yes, unless the sky is completely cloudy, anyone who can see the sky will be able to see it from anywhere in the Rochester region and far beyond.
The most interesting part of the eclipse begins at 9:07 pm, when the moon begins to enter the umbra or the dark part of Earth's shadow. During a lunar eclipse, sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere often gives Earth’s shadow a reddish or orange hue, as shown in this drawing by Étienne Trouvelot from 1882.*
The Strasenburgh Planetarium has a plan for viewing that will be called off only if the weather forecast is extremely unfavorable - which is unlikely.
The Most Convenient of Views
The last time Rochester had a total lunar eclipse during prime-time evening hours was February 21, 2008. It was cold, snowing and hardy Planetarium visitors peeked at the eclipse through holes in the wind-driven clouds. Other lunar eclipses since then either occurred in the wee hours of the morning as on April 14, 2014 or were spoiled by weather as on Oct. 8, 2014. So this time we've earned a nice convenient view.
Rochester's next lunar eclipses after this one are on Jan. 31, 2018, when we'll see the moon partially eclipsed just before it sets early in the morning, and Jan. 20-21, 2019, when the entire eclipse will be visible through the middle part of the night.
Want to share this year’s eclipse with friends or relatives out of town? This eclipse will be visible from anywhere in North America east of the Rockies, all of the Caribbean, all of South America, the entire Atlantic Ocean, western Africa, most of Europe and all of the British Isles.
Lunar vs. Solar Eclipses
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the shadow of Earth. As you have probably heard, there's also another kind: a solar eclipse, in which the Moon passes between us and the Sun, briefly casting its shadow over lucky regions of Earth. The next solar eclipse visible from Rochester occurs on August 21, 2017. In Rochester's sky, that will be a partial eclipse. However, the 2017 eclipse will be total along a path that cuts across the continental U.S. from Oregon through St. Louis to South Carolina. It will be a big event.
For us, April 8, 2024 will be even bigger. It's another solar eclipse, and this time the path of totality passes over Rochester. The last time Rochester experienced a total solar eclipse was January 24, 1925. If you remember the 1925 eclipse, please contact us!
You may also hear about International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday, Sept. 19. This annual NASA-backed event may be a bigger thing in places that don't have regular opportunities for public moon viewing. The moon is in a good position for early evening viewing about one Saturday out of every four, and volunteers from the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science, led by the indefatigable Jim Seidewand and Don Chamberlin, show the moon to our visitors every clear Saturday night that it's available in the sky.
The Strasenburgh Planetarium recommends these sites as clear and reliable sources among the zillions of websites and YouTube videos purporting to explain the moon and eclipses:
Spaceweather.com is good for anything high in the sky that comes and goes quickly, including eclipses, meteor showers, auroras and unusual atmospheric phenomena.
Earthsky.org has details on the ideas of "supermoon" and "blood moon," vague terms which have popped up in the last few years. Look at this page for the September 27-28 eclipse.
Eclipsewise.com has dates and maps for lunar and solar eclipses centuries into the past and future. The author, Fred Espenak, did NASA's eclipse calculations before he retired a couple of years ago.
Best wishes for eclipse viewing on September 27. Listen to the insects. Try to imagine the moon and Earth's shadow in three dimensions. Enjoy the opportunity to look at something that's far away, quiet, not on a screen and much bigger than any of us.
*Science, Industry and Business Library: General Collection , The New York Public Library. (1881 - 1882). Partial eclipse of the moon. Observed October 24, 1874. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-e822-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99