Three celestial events will take place this evening: a lunar eclipse, the passing of a comet, and a full moon.
The lunar surface of the snow moon, the name given to February’s full moon, will be subtly shadowed by a penumbral lunar eclipse, which occurs when Earth, the sun and moon align, according to EarthSky.
In addition to the eclipse, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, also known as the New Year comet, will make its closest approach to Earth since 2011 when it will pass about 8 million miles from Earth on Saturday morning.
Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková will be visible in the morning sky just before dawn Saturday through binoculars as it passes through the constellation Hercules. Later in the month, the comet will pass through the constellations Corona Borealis, Boötes, Canes Venatici and Ursa Major.
While both sound significant, neither will be much of a spectacle for the casual skygazer. The eclipse will be a penumbral lunar eclipse, meaning that only a portion of Earth’s shadow will cover the moon. Unlike a total lunar eclipse, where the entire moon takes on a reddish color from being engulfed by the Earth’s shadow, the moon will appear only slightly darker than usual during Friday’s eclipse.
North, Central and South America will have the best views of the eclipse from the east. The eclipse will begin at 4:34 p.m. local time and end at 8:53 p.m.
While Comet 45P’s visit isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for skygazers, it is important for scientists, according to Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist from NASA Goddard. The close pass will allow researchers to take better images of the comet, and further determine what it is made of and where it came from, he said.