Eclipse, supermoon to share sky to delight of Allegheny Observatory manager
Louis Coban always rejoices when his celestial playground gains national buzz.
There's been national buildup all week to Sunday night when a rare so-called supermoon total lunar eclipse will grace the night sky, barring cloudy weather.
Coban, the manager and electronic technician of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory, gets a kick out of the stargazing hype. As the observatory's sole full-time employee, he spends many a night alone with the stars.
“Anything that brings attention to astronomy is really great,” he said Saturday. “Let's hope the weather cooperates.”
A lunar eclipse will share the sky with the supermoon. Skywatchers haven't been able to view this combination since 1982, and it won't happen again until 2033.
The full eclipse of the moon should last more than an hour and be visible, weather permitting, from North and South America, Europe, Africa and western Asia. East Coast residents should tune in to the sky at 10:11 p.m., when the moon, Earth and sun will be lined up, with Earth's shadow completely obscuring the moon.
Although about 220,000 miles away, the full moon will look bigger and brighter than normal. This will be the closest full moon of the year, about 30,000 miles closer than the average distance from the moon to Earth.
Coban doesn't love the term supermoon — which occurs when a full or new moon makes its closest approach to Earth.
“I'd like to take the person who invented the expression ‘supermoon' and ... well, never mind,” he said. “Let's just say the term bugs me. It's just a little bigger because it's closer to the Earth. It's a neat thing, but it's not a supermoon.”
Art Glaser, who works for the University of Pittsburgh as a historian for the Allegheny Observatory, has observed partial and full lunar eclipses most of his life.
“I was probably in seventh grade and watched the first one out of my bedroom in Port Vue,” he said. “My dad told me if the steel mills weren't working that night I'd see something.
And he was hooked.
A former American history teacher in the Mt. Lebanon School District, Glaser started began compiling the observatory's history during a sabbatical in 1982. He runs evening tours.
On Sunday, Glaser plans to set up a telescope on his porch in Dormont and see if the eclipse is as advertised.
“There won't be another one this good for awhile,” he said.
An eclipse moon is called a “blood moon” because of its rust-like color. Glaser explained that the Earth's atmosphere extends beyond the planet, and sunlight can still reach the moon, making the reddish appearance.
“The actual color of the moon will vary depending on all the atmospheric stuff, such as volcanoes or forest fires in California,” Glaser said. “If the color is right, it's something to behold.”
Ben Schmitt is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991. The Associated Press contributed to this report.