Click on graphic to see it full size.
The solar eclipse on Sunday 3 November, will have been brought to us by the nodes. No the nodes are not a scientific nor a musical group, but rather the nodes represent an intersection between the orbital path of our Moon, or another planet, with the Earth’s orbital path, the plane of the ecliptic. There are two nodes or intersections, the ascending node
and the descending node
. There are two nodes because the planets as well as our Moon do not orbit the Sun on the same level, or plane as does the Earth. Their respective orbits are inclined (tilted) away from the plane of the ecliptic by varying amounts such that they will at times appear below or above the plane of the ecliptic. There will be two times each orbit around the Sun where the planet or our Moon will be on the plane of the ecliptic as it crosses moving from below setting up the ascending node or from above toward below, setting up the descending node.
So what is the significance of the nodes?
The significance is all about timing. If the time of the new Moon phase, for example, occurs at or near the time for a node crossing then there will be a solar eclipse. Remember that at this moment the Moon is on the plane of the ecliptic and is more or less directly between the Earth and the Sun. More importantly, if the times are exact or very close there will be either a total solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse. On 3 November the new Moon phase is 12:48 UT 6:48 am CST) and is at its ascending node nearly 6 hours earlier at 6:55 UT (12:55 am CST). The Moon makes first contact with the Sun at 10:04 UT (4:04 am CST); maximum eclipse, mid-eclipse, is at 12:46 UT (6:46 am CST); and the eclipse officially ends with last contact at 14:27 UT (8:47 am CST).
To sort of complete this story, if there is a solar eclipse, no matter how total or less than total, there will be a lunar eclipse two weeks away at full Moon phase. Eclipses occur in pairs so this pair started with the penumbral lunar eclipse last month at full Moon on 18 October.
Moon Grazing the Earth’s Shadow
Since that occurred about 26 hours before the Moon was at its descending node the angle the Moon followed through the Earth’s shadows only had it ‘graze’ the less noticeable outer penumbral shadow. Unless you knew about it you would have not noticed a slight dimming of the reflected moonlight. And, because the Moon’s orbital path is inclined, this lunar eclipse which was at descending node means that the 3 November solar eclipse will be at its ascending node – which it will be.
Mercury is also in the picture because it too is at its ascending node and just a few days ago Mercury was at inferior conjunction. Had these two, ascending node and inferior conjunction, coincided we would have had a transit of the Sun by Mercury.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.