Backyard Observatory

A Lunar Eclipse Is Coming on the Fourth of July. Here's How to See It.

That's almost as good as getting fireworks.

lunar eclipse june 2020
Wassilios Aswestopoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For a lot of cities -- excluding New York and its surprise, random fireworks-for-days plan -- Fourth of July fireworks are on hold or outright canceled. It's disappointing to many people but understandable. Gathering hundreds or even thousands of people together in the middle of a pandemic isn't safe. However, socially distancing and looking up at the sky is totally acceptable and there's a reason to go out and do it on the Fourth even if there aren't fireworks. 

On the night of July 4, there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse visible throughout the US. Look, I love stargazing, but even I'll own up to the fact that this is no replacement for fireworks if you're looking for spectacle. Nonetheless, it's happening, it's fun, and you can even look for it if your city or neighbors are doing fireworks. 

You'll begin to see the penumbral lunar eclipse at 11:07pm EST, per Time and Date, with the maximum eclipse arriving at 12:29am. 

What is a penumbral lunar eclipse?

There are three different types of lunar eclipses. The most notable is the total lunar eclipse when the Earth's shadow completely covers the moon as it passes between the moon and sun. Sometimes the moon isn't completely covered by the Earth's shadow and it looks a bit like someone took a bite out of it. That's a partial eclipse. 

What is taking place on July 4 is the third type, a penumbral lunar eclipse. In this instance, the sun, moon, and Earth are imperfectly aligned. The Earth blocks some of the sun's light from reaching the surface of the moon, covering it with only the outer part of our planet's shadow, called the penumbra. That outer shadow is fainter than the dark center of our planet's shadow. The moon will still look like a full moon but will grow fainter as the penumbra covers the surface of the moon. 

It's a bit like checking your favorite streaming service to see if Jurassic Park is available only to find out that The Lost World is the only one of the five films in the series available anywhere. It's not what you were hoping for. It's not the most exciting option. But you'll still watch the hell out of it because where else are you going to see a T-Rex, let alone one wandering the streets of San Diego. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.