Total eclipse of year’s closest supermoon on May 26

Above photo: The last time we had a total eclipse of the moon was nearly 2 1/2 years ago, on January 21, 2019. Tom Wildoner captured this image of this total lunar eclipse from Weatherly, Pennsylvania. Thank you Tom!

On May 26, 2021, the full moon sweeps through the Earth’s dark umbral shadow to stage a short-lived total eclipse of the moon. Although totality lasts for less than 15 minutes, a partial umbral eclipse precedes and then follows totality by nearly 1 1/2 hours each time. So, from start to finish, the moon takes a little over three hours to cross the Earth’s dark shadow.

This May full moon counts as the closest (and therefore the biggest) full moon of the year. Some people may call it a supermoon. A total eclipse of the year’s closest full moon last occurred on September 28, 2015.

This total lunar eclipse is visible from western North America, southern and far-western South America, the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, Australia and southeast Asia. From the Americas, this eclipse takes place in the early morning hours before sunrise May 26; whereas from the world’s Eastern Hemisphere (New Zealand, Australia and southeast Asia), the eclipse occurs in the evening hours after sunset May 26. The worldwide map below helps to explain:

Worldwide map of day and night sides of Earth at mid-eclipse.

The day and night sides of Earth at mid-eclipse or greatest eclipse (May 26 at 11:19 UTC). The shadow line at left (running through North and South America) depicts sunrise (moonset) May 26, whereas the shadow at right (running across Asia), represents sunset (moonrise) May 26. You have to be on the nighttime side of Earth to see the moon at mid-eclipse (greatest eclipse).

A swath of the Americas to the right (east) of the sunrise line on the worldwide map will miss the total eclipse but can watch a partial umbral eclipse of the moon; whereas a section of Asia to the left (west) of the sunset line will miss the total eclipse but can watch a partial umbral eclipse. The arrows in the worldwide map below show where the umbral eclipse begins in the Americas and where the umbral eclipse ends in Asia. The regions marked U4 to P4 in Asia, and U1 to P1 in the Americas, sit outside the umbral eclipse viewing area. So this outlier region must be content with a faint penumbral eclipse.

worldwide map of day and night at partial eclipse.

One arrow shows where the umbral eclipse begins in the Americas, and the other arrow points to where the umbral eclipse ends in Asia.

Find out the eclipse times for your part of the world via TimeandDate, remembering to place your city in the lookup box.

We give the eclipse times first in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and then in local time for U.S. time zones:

Eclipse times in UTC (May 26, 2021):

Partial umbral eclipse begins: 9:45 UTC
Total eclipse begins: 11:11 UTC
Greatest eclipse: 11:19 UTC
Total eclipse ends: 11:26 UTC
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 12:52 UTC

Eclipse times for North American time zones:

Eastern Daylight Time (May 26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 5:45 a.m. EDT
Total eclipse begins: 7:11 a.m. EDT
Greatest eclipse: 7:19 a.m. EDT
Total eclipse ends: 7:26 a.m. EDT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 8:52 a.m. EDT

Central Daylight Time (May 26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 4:45 a.m. CDT
Total eclipse begins: 6:11 a.m. CDT
Greatest eclipse: 6:19 a.m. CDT
Total eclipse ends: 6:26 a.m. CDT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 7:52 a.m. CDT

Mountain Daylight Time (May 26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 3:45 a.m. MDT
Total eclipse begins: 5:11 a.m. MDT
Greatest eclipse: 5:19 a.m. MDT
Total eclipse ends: 5:26 a.m. MDT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 6:52 a.m. MDT

Pacific Daylight Time (May 26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 2:45 a.m. PDT
Total eclipse begins: 4:11 a.m. PDT
Greatest eclipse: 4:19 a.m. PDT
Total eclipse ends: 4:26 a.m. PDT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 5:52 a.m. PDT

Alaskan Daylight Time (May 26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 1:45 a.m. AKDT
Total eclipse begins: 3:11 a.m. AKDT
Greatest eclipse: 3:19 a.m. AKDT
Total eclipse ends: 3:26 a.m. AKDT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 4:52 a.m. AKDT

Hawaiian Standard Time (May 25-26, 2021)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 11:45 p.m. HST (May 25, 2021)
Total eclipse begins: 1:11 a.m. HST (May 26, 2021)
Greatest eclipse: 1:19 a.m. HST
Total eclipse ends: 1:26 a.m. HST
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 2:52 a.m. HST

Moon's path through Earth's shadow on May 26, 2021.

The moon travels from west-to-east across the Earth’s shadow. Because the moon doesn’t cross the Earth’s shadow dead center, the northern part of the moon will appear brighter than the southern part, which is more deeply submerged in shadow.

Why such a short total lunar eclipse?

A total lunar eclipse can only happen at full moon, or when the moon is opposite the sun in Earth’s sky. More often than not, however, the full moon passes to the north or to the south of Earth’s dark shadow, and therefore avoids being eclipsed. For instance, last month – on April 27 – the full moon swept to the north of the Earth’s shadow; whereas next month – on June 24 – the full moon will swing to the south of Earth’s shadow.

In fact, the full moons of July, August, September and October 2021 will all travel south of the Earth’s shadow. Finally, the November 2021 full moon will meet up with the Earth’s dark shadow on November 19, 2021. It won’t be a perfect alignment, however, and the November full moon will just miss being totally eclipsed.

Yet, the total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021, doesn’t make a perfect alignment, either. In fact, this May 2021 full moon doesn’t even cross the center of the Earth’s shadow. This full moon is about as far as it can get from the center of the Earth’s shadow, and still be totally eclipsed. That’s why this total eclipse lasts for short period of time, or less than 15 minutes.

The more closely that the full moon’s center aligns with the center of the Earth’s shadow, the deeper and longer the total eclipse. On July 27, 2018, the alignment between full moon and Earth’s shadow was almost perfect, to produce the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century (2001 to 2100). This total eclipse lasted for 1 hour and 43 minutes, or nearly 1 1/2 hours longer than the May 16, 2021 eclipse.

Read more: Century’s longest eclipse July 27, 2018

The moon crosses the Earth’s shadow from west to east. The full moon on July 27, 2018, crossed the Earth’s shadow pretty much dead center, to produce the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century (2001 to 2100).

Although the total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021, is a rather shallow one, it’s the only total lunar eclipse to occur in the year 2021, and the first to take place since January 21, 2019. Enjoy the grand natural attraction while the time is at hand!

Bruce McClure