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A guide to tonight's comet-eclipse-full-moon triple feature

The closest comet approach in decades will give skywatchers something to hunt for as a penumbral lunar eclipse obliges by dimming the light of the "snow moon."

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Comet 45P is back for its roughly twice a decade visit.

NASA/JPL-CalTech

Even if you aren't a space nerd whose idea of a good time is craning your neck to stare into the vast nothingness of space on a frigid evening, this evening the heavens will put on a show worth heading outdoors for.

A penumbral lunar eclipse, a full "snow moon" and a comet will be spicing up the night sky Friday in a rare convergence of such celestial happenings.

We'll start with our nearest neighbor. February brings the full moon known as the "snow moon" because this month in North America tends to see a lot of the white fluffy stuff.

This snow moon will be special though because, well... we'll all get in its way in a sense when the penumbral lunar eclipse takes place Friday. The eclipse will be at least partly visible from most but not all places on Earth (sorry Australia and Japan). The moment of greatest eclipse is at 4:43 p.m. PT and the eclipse will then dissipate until it completes a little over two hours later, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.

To be clear, this won't be a total disappearance of the moon from the sky, but a more subtle darkening of its disk as it passes through the weaker part of Earth's shadow.


Next up, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková has actually been visible with binoculars and telescopes for several weeks already, but it will be at its closest approach to Earth on the morning of February 11 as it passes by at a distance of 7.4 million miles (11.9 million kilometers) or 30 times further away than the moon.

Comet 45P shows up with a bright green tail and scientists say it's ancient, although it was not discovered until 1948. Typically it hangs out by Jupiter's orbit but ventures into the inner solar system from time to time. The last time it made a swing through our neighborhood was 2011 and it's due back in 2022.

The comet probably won't be visible with the naked eye, especially with that special full moon in the sky, but you may be able to hunt it down with binoculars or a telescope. According to NASA, it will be visible in the morning sky in the constellation Hercules.

The Slooh Observatory says this will be the closest comet approach in 30 years. If your skies are too cloudy to get a good look, you can also watch Slooh's live broadcast below starting Friday at 7:30 p.m. PT.

First published, February 8, 7:39 p.m. PT.

Update: February 10, 10:45 a.m. PT.

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