Eclipse, comet, and a full Snow Moon on the menu for Friday night

CC BY 2.0 A comet in the night sky. Wood engraving, 1860

If this trifecta of sky antics doesn’t portend unicorn sightings and magic portals, then nothing will.

Look up to the heavens this Friday, February 10, and be wowed. Not only will a full snow moon be gracing the inky skies, but it will show off the outer part of Earth’s shadow in a poetic penumbral eclipse – all of which will be followed a few hours later by a spectacular sparkly fly-by of Comet 45P. Sheesh! Portals will surely open, unicorns will run freely, cosmic shenanigans will unleash magic! Ok, I get excited, I know, but it's safe to say that at the very least there will be some lovely wonders to marvel at in the skies above.

The full Snow Moon

To many it might just be a plain ol' full moon that happens to be in February. But for early Native American tribes, the full moon was much more than just a lovely novelty. Tribes kept tabs on time by observing the seasons and especially the celestial timekeeper known as the moon. Rather than our mundane January, February, et cetera, they watched the year pass in a series of beautiful moons, each one named for a predominate display of the season.
Tribes in the north and east named February’s moon after the mainstay meteorological feature of the month: snow. Some tribes also referred to this moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since hunting and harvest were both in short supply.

See Full moon names and what they mean for the rest of them.

The penumbral eclipse

And upon that pretty Snow Moon, weather permitting, we will be treated to a "penumbral" lunar eclipse. At 7:43 p.m. ET, our favorite little satellite will move through the outer part of Earth’s shadow, which will block some of the sun's rays from reaching the moon. It's not as dramatic as a full lunar eclipse – it will just look a bit darker than normal – but it really puts things into perspective and is nonetheless profound to be able to see at least part of the shadow of our home displayed on the moon. NASA says that the eclipse will be visible from Europe, Africa, western Asia, and eastern North and South America.

eclipseWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdusakova

And if that weren't enough, we've got a real live comet zipping by – and it will be the closest comet in thirty years. In fact, it will rank as the 21st closest passage of a comet to Earth! The awkwardly named Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdusakova (which is what happens when three people discover something independently) makes its closest approach early Saturday morning – a mere 7.4 million miles away. Which is space miles is like right-here. This "binocular comet" can be seen to the east around 3:00 a.m., notes USA Today, who created this little map of the skies to help you find it.

The pretty ball of blue-green light with a tail will be flirting with the constellation Hercules. And while honestly, it might be a little hard to see, I have faith that you will be able to find it if you can stay up that late. And if not, there's more in the lineup this year: Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák, 2/P Encke, C/2015 ER61 PanSTARRS, and Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson will all be making the rounds. Now if we just had some poetic Native American names for which to call them by.

Eclipse, comet, and a full Snow Moon on the menu for Friday night
If this trifecta of sky antics doesn’t portend unicorn sightings and magic portals, then nothing will.

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