Snow moon, lunar eclipse and 'New Year' comet offer triple treat for stargazers

Stargazers hardy enough to brave the chilly weather tonight will be treated to three astronomical events - if the skies are clear enough to see them.

A lunar eclipse, snow moon and the New Year comet will be visible in the skies over the UK, all on the same night.

But forecasts for cloud over much of the country may mean only those in the South West, Wales and western areas will see the unusual celestial event.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A full moon in February is named the snow moon because in the US February is traditionally the snowiest time of year, in the same way a harvest moon is so called because it is a full moon nearest the autumnal equinox.

The snow moon coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse, in which it is almost completely in shade as the Earth comes between the sun and the moon.

A penumbral eclipse occurs when the moon passes through a peripheral region of the Earth's shadow.

Usually this casts a faint shadow on the moon's surface, causing it to appear less bright.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the eclipse on Friday is unusual as most of the moon's face will cross the Earth's shadow, making it appear much darker.

The eclipse will begin at 10.34pm and end at 2.53am on Satuday, with the best time to view it at 12.54am.

The third event is the proximity of the New Year comet.

Visible around the world since December, on Friday it will make its closest approach to Earth since 2011, flying past a mere 7.4 million miles away.

The comet will be visible from midnight, but people will need binoculars or a telescope to see it. Those that miss its flashing brilliance will have to wait another five years until it reappears.

A forecast for cloud cover is available on the Met Office's website.