Tonight: Full snow moon and penumbral lunar eclipse

February’s full moon rises Friday, flirting briefly with Earth’s shadow in a deep penumbral eclipse that will be visible through prime time in North America.

The lunar courtship begins shortly before Friday’s 6:03 p.m. EST moonrise in the east-northeast but should be most apparent at 7:44 p.m. when the planet’s lone natural satellite is fully engulfed in Earth’s smudgy outer shadow.

A super moon lights up the night sky over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A super moon lights up the night sky over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

While a penumbral eclipse means no part of the moon will go fully black as in a partial or total eclipse, Friday’s event is expected to be better than average as the moon misses delving into Earth’s full shadow by just 100 miles, according to Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope.

Related: First full solar eclipse in nearly 40 years happening this year

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“Some penumbral eclipses are so slight, they’re unnoticeable, but this is almost getting to the point of a partial lunar eclipse,” MacRobert said. “The moon misses the umbra of Earth’s shadow by 100 miles, which in the scale of the solar system, is pretty small.”

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The moon will have a dusky semi-circle that will float over its surface during the eclipse. It should be first visible at 6:14 p.m. but with last light not occurring until 6:34 p.m., it may be hard to see until the sky darkens. Sunset Friday is at 6:10 p.m.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

This month’s full moon is known as the “snow moon” — a fitting name for many areas in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states that receive their heaviest snowfall in February. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Native American tribes named moons based on the season, with some referring to February’s moon as the “hunger moon” and the “bone moon.”

A super moon rises over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A super moon rises over the Boynton Beach Inlet in Boynton Beach, Florida on September 8, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The East Coast of the U.S. will see the eclipse better than the Pacific Coast, but Bruce McClure, a blogger for EarthSky.org cautioned against expecting too much from a penumbral eclipse.

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“You might think the full moon looks slightly darker than a typical full moon, if you catch it as it’s passing through the Earth’s faint penumbral shadow,” McClure said. “Others will look at the full moon and swear they see nothing at all.”

Another space spectacle will happen Saturday morning, but there is debate whether it will be visible to the casual observer and most astronomers said it won’t be visible without binoculars or a telescope.

For experienced stargazers, the striking green comet called 45/P will be 7.4 million miles from Earth — the closest it comes for the rest of the century — and moving through the constellation Hercules.

Watch live webcast of penumbral eclipse and comet 45/P here. 

“This is actually a very close approach for a comet,” said Matt Holman, an astrophysicist and interim director of the Minor Planet Center. “Certainly not an impact hazard, but there is potential for a bright appearance.”

The Minor Planet Center, which is part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, calculated that 45/P’s flyby is the eighth closest pass of any comet since 1950. Its green color is a product of vaporizing diatomic carbon.

Michael DiSanti, a comet scientist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said he doesn’t expect the average person to be able to see the comet, especially without a telescope or binoculars.

“It will be visible in the morning sky, but not anything close to naked-eye visible,” DiSanti said.

Deborah Byrd, editor-in-chief of the online astronomy magazine Earth and Sky, said she was motivated to write a story about 45/P after being peppered with questions about it.

“Will you see it? Well … are you an experienced observer or astrophotographer, used to finding faint objects in the sky? If not, probably not. If so, possibly so, after some fist-shaking at this weekend’s bright moon,” she wrote.

MacRobters agreed.

“If you’re not familiar with using really detailed star charts, it’s probably not worth going out for,” he said.

But, he added, “anyone can find the full moon,” and it should be hanging large and brilliant in partly cloudy skies Friday night.

If you want a view of comet 45/P, Slooh is doing a live show beginning at 5:30 p.m. EST. The broadcast begins with the penumbral eclipse then switches gears at 10:30 p.m. to point their telescopes at 45/P.

Space.com will also have a live broadcast. 

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