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The Buzz

November Sky Watching: A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and Maybe Some Fireballs, Too




 (Photo via Shutterstock)

November is the second straight month that ends with a full moon, but November won't end with quite the same mystique as October, when we experienced a blue moon — a second full moon in a month — on Halloween night, a rare trick of the calendar that won't happen again until 2039.

November's full moon will be noteworthy, however, because there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse. Eclipses occur when the moon, Earth and the sun line up in space and Earth's shadow is cast on the moon, according to EarthSky.

Penumbral lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes through the outer part of Earth's shadow. These eclipses aren't as visually stunning as full or partial lunar eclipses, when the moon is fully obscured or looks like a bite has been taken out of it, as is the case with partial lunar eclipses. Instead, during the penumbral eclipse, the moon will appear darker, as if in a shadow.

This is the fourth penumbral lunar eclipse of 2020, but only the second one that has been visible in North America, according to Space.com. The eclipse begins at 1:33 a.m. November 30 and lasts until 5:54 a.m. The eclipse will reach its maximum point at 3:44 a.m.

The next lunar eclipse will be a total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021, and it will be visible across the entire continental United States, according to NASA. In a total lunar eclipse, Earth's entire shadow is cast on the moon, giving it an eerie red color that has led to the nickname "blood moon."

Lunar eclipses — no matter whether full, partial or penumbral — occur only during a full moon. November's full moon will occur at precisely 3:30 a.m. November 30. The November full moon is known as the beaver moon because it occurs around the time of year when Algonquin native Americans and colonial Americans set beaver traps to catch the animals, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac. It's also the time of year when beavers begin to take shelter in their lodges for the winter after storing enough food for the cold season. 

Before November's full moon, you'll have a few chances to wish upon a shooting star because several meteor showers will be active throughout the month. The Northern Taurids meteor shower began in October and runs through December 10, but its peak will be the night of November 11 into November 12, according to the American Meteor Society. The moon will only be 15 percent full that night, allowing for darker skies which means better viewing.

The Leonid meteor shower begins November 6 and runs until November 30, with peak activity the night of November 16 into November 17, the meteor society reports. The moon will be only 5 percent full this night, creating optimal viewing conditions for seeing shooting stars. The Leonids sometimes produces a meteor storm, but this year's shower is not expected to produce large numbers of shooting stars, peaking at about 15 per hour.

One last meteor shower will be active this month, the Southern Taurids, which began in September and runs through November 20. Peak activity for the Southern Taurids was in October, but shooting stars associated with this meteor shower may still be seen streaking across the sky until mid- to late November.

Both the Northern and Southern Taurids meteor showers are often associated with more fireball activity, increasing the reports of fireballs seen in the night sky between September and November, the meteor society reports. Fireballs are meteors, but brighter and more colorful than normal shooting stars. If you see a fireball shooting across the night sky, you can report it to the American Meteor Society via their online reporting tool.

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