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Friday Night's Sky to Light Up

11 February 2017

The Earth, sun and full moon will align in an nearly perfectly straight line Friday evening, creating a rare spectacle in the night sky: a penumbral eclipse.

Unlike the dramatic total eclipse of the moon, you can only see a subtle dark shadow on the moon during the penumbral version. Since it has always been hard to spot a penumbral eclipse, people can still detect Earth's shadows when the moon passes by.

Tonight, the moon will pass through the Earth's penumbra - the outer region of the Earth's shadow - which will cast a gray shadow over the surface of the moon. (If you can't find Hercules you wouldn't have seen the comet anyway.) You will need dark skies-no light pollution-and binoculars or a telescope to see Comet 45P. The February full moon is traditionally known as the "snow moon" for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who has lived up north.

Unfortunately, much of the U.S. East Coast is forecasted to be blanketed by clouds.

In fact, if you stay up the entire night, there's a good chance you'll catch an eclipse, comet, and the "Snow Moon".

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The peak time for the eclipse will be Friday evening at about 6:45 pm. CNN has noted that this will only be a partial eclipse, so it will not be as remarkable as the blood moon eclipses. Friday night, something different will happen, in effect.

Comet 45P is visible as it flies by Earth.

Early Saturday morning, there'll be another space spectacle to behold as Comet 45P will be coming into view around 3 AM. The shadowing may be detectable as late as about 9:15 p.m. It will be a close encounter as these things go, passing within some 7 million miles.

However, it will be a little dim and will require binoculars or a small telescope to see.

According to The Washington Post, the comet will make its closest approach to the planet at 10:30 p.m. ET, however, it will not be visible to the naked eye.