Friday night lights: Get ready for a cosmic triple feature

Friday night promises to treat residents of the Americas to a full moon, comet, and partial lunar eclipse all on one night.

The saying that good things come in threes will be especially true for skywatchers this weekend, who hope to be treated to an unlikely celestial play in three acts.

The first act is already underway, as the moon waxes nearer and nearer to full, its Earth-facing side completely lit by the rays of the sun. The orb will continue to swell until Friday night, when it is expected to reach peak-roundness at 7:33 p.m. Eastern time.

February’s full moon bears the nickname, "the snow moon," which might seem a cruel joke to ski fans lamenting this year's mild winter weather. 

Act two starts right at the climax of the first, when the moon starts to dip into the shadow the sun casts behind the Earth. The partial lunar eclipse will likely be visible to stargazers in most of the Americas, and folks on the East Coast can start watching right after moon-rise in the early evening.

As the moon passes deeper into Earth’s outer shadow, it is expected to turn darker and darker gray. During the middle of the eclipse at 7:44 p.m, about a third of the moon will likely be visibly shaded.

And now for something completely different, the third and final act will be entirely non-lunar. Those who can stay awake until 10:30 p.m. and have access to binoculars or a telescope might catch a glimpse of comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusáková hurtling past Earth at its point of closest approach (which is close, but not that close. No need to panic). Flying at about a hundred times faster than the typical jet plane, it is expected to pass by about 32 times higher than the moon.

You can also call it Comet 45P, if you prefer. We certainly won’t blame you.

If you know where to look (hint: try the constellation Hercules), the glowing green hunk of ice can already be seen. In fact, early viewing might be preferred because that giant lunar spotlight certainly won’t make things easier.

According to Sky and Telescope, the full moon is expected to linger later and later into the morning, so the earlier the better. You can get an idea of what 45P looks like and detailed instructions describing how to see it on the magazine's website.

As an encore act, Venus is also shining at her brightest for the year, according to the US Navy. Reportedly brilliant enough to cast shadows on a dark, moonless night, the morning star should just be visible during the day as well, making for an easy target.

For those interested in celestial phenomena who don’t live in an ideal viewing area, or if it’s just too cold out, follow the Slooh observatory on Twitter for information regarding its live-stream covering both the eclipse and the comet.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.