TONIGHT: A celestial triple header
Clear skies Friday night, accompanied by unseasonably warm temperatures, will make conditions optimal for stargazers to enjoy a triple treat.
Consider this your reward after a long work week: The heavens are set to go wild Friday with a full snow moon lunar eclipse and the closest brush Earth has had with a comet in three decades.
Friday's event is being referred to as a "Full Snow Moon Penumbral Eclipse," because of an old tradition in which each month's moon was named to describe the time of year.
1) Tonight is the full moon. It is called the “snow” moon due to February being the snowiest month on average in the United States.
2) Tonight’s full moon will be accompanied by a “penumbral” lunar eclipse, which will happen just as the full moon peaks. The penumbra is the outer part of the earth’s shadow, and as the moon passes through it is not as dramatic as a full, total eclipse. You will, however, notice the moon tonight is a little darker than normal.
3) Our third event will be a comet racing across the eastern sky. Romantically named Comet 45P, it will be closest to the earth and most visible at 3:00am Saturday morning.
The eclipse is expected to start around 5:34 p.m. EST, with East Coast residents having the best view. Paul Cox, an astronomer at Slooh, told NBC News that East Coast residents should be able to see the spectacle "an hour or so into the eclipse when the moon has risen."
"We will watch as the Full Snow Moon gradually fades from its left-hand side as it's bathed in the Earth's penumbral shadow. The effect is subtle and is easier to see in a series of images than with the naked eye — but it is possible to see with the naked eye," Cox said.
The greatest eclipse will occur at 7:44 p.m. EST, making it easier for East Coasters to get the best views halfway through the four-hour and 19-minute long eclipse.
Even after the eclipse is over, it will still be a busy night in the sky. Comet 45P is set to have its closest brush with Earth Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET, marking the nearest encounter in three decades, according to Slooh.
"It was sporting quite a long tail before reaching perihelion (closest to the Sun) on New Year's Eve. When it reappeared into pre-dawn skies last week, it has taken on a beautiful green hue with a diffuse coma. There is little sign of a tail," Cox said.
Comet 45P is speedy but not as bright as forecast, so Cox recommends "either a strong pair of binoculars or small telescope" for optimal viewing.
Slooh will also have the best views of both events, live streaming the gorgeous views on their website.
And if you thought this was a lot, we're in for another big spectacle later this month.
"A lunar eclipse is usually paired with a solar eclipse — in this case, a 'Ring-of-Fire' solar eclipse on February 26th," Cox said. "So just as the Moon is being plunged into the Earth's shadow on Friday, the Earth will be plunged into the Moon's shadow later this month."