A full “buck moon” will shine on Fourth of July festivities in Colorado this weekend, and it offers a special treat — a lunar eclipse — that starts off a month of spectacular skygazing.
Whether you’ll be able to see it, of course, depends on the weather forecast. The National Weather Service expects the sky over Denver’s metro area and Boulder to be partially cloudy Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
The penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible throughout North America. When it peaks at 12:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Sunday, about a third of the lunar orb will dim for a few hours as the Earth’s diffuse outer shadow falls on the moon’s face.
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A bite is seemingly taken out of the moon during total and partial lunar eclipses, but the penumbral lunar eclipse is subtle and more difficult to observe, according to Earthsky.org.
Eclipses can only occur during a full moon. The July full buck moon — so named because it’s the time of year when male deer begin to grow velvety antlers — reaches 100 percent fullness at 12:44 a.m. Sunday, not long after the penumbral lunar eclipse peak. But absent cloud cover, it will shine big and bright over Independence Day festivities Saturday night.
July’s full moon is also sometimes called the full hay moon to note the time of year farmers put hay up in their barns, or the full thunder moon because thunderstorms often occur during July.
The heavens promise some other Fourth of July goodies.
As evening twilight ends Saturday, the bright planet Jupiter and the fainter planet Saturn will appear in the southeast sky.
Jupiter reached opposition July 1, while Saturn will be at its closest and brightest July 20. But both gaseous giants will be visible all month.
And — drum roll, please — meteors return to the nighttime skies this month.
The long and rambling Delta Aquarids meteor shower, produced by debris left behind by the Marsden and Kracht comets and known for producing fireballs, peaks after midnight July 29 and runs through Aug. 23. About 20 shooting stars an hour are typically seen.
The lesser Alpha Capricornids meteor shower could add a few more meteors to the mix that night. It’s not a strong meteor shower, typically producing only about five shooting stars an hour, but it is known for producing bright fireballs. The shower will run from Friday through Aug. 15.
Both showers coincide with the usually spectacular Perseid meteor shower, which also starts this month on the 17th and runs through Aug. 24. It typically produces about 60 shooting stars an hour at the peak, which occurs this year in the overnight hours of Aug. 12-13. A second-quarter moon will wash out some of the faintest meteors, but this shower is so bright and prolific that it should still be a winner. The Perseids fly mainly after midnight and can be seen anywhere in the sky, though they radiate from the constellation Perseus.
Also in July, the Milky Way is visible in dark skies after midnight. The best viewing dates are July 13-20. While you’re gazing at the sky, look for the sparkling star fields of Sagittarius and Scorpius, and especially the orange star Antares, which is often called a “rival of Mars.”