Tonight will be the first in a series of four total lunar eclipses to take place over the course of the next year and a half. For those in North America, and western South America, including Hawaii and parts of Alaska, the eclipse will begin minutes before 1:00 a.m. EDT and last until 6 a.m. EDT. The last total lunar eclipse was in 2010, but in this unique astronomical series the next total lunar eclipse is expected October 8, 2014.
A front row seat to the spectacle will be dependent on weather patterns in the area. A small scattering of clouds should not effect viewing. It is suspected, already, that parts the eastern U. S. will have a poor display this time around. If unfortunate weather problems overshadow the eclipse, or for those in Europe or Asia who will not be able to view the event, or for those who cannot stay up all night to watch as the Earth masks the moon, live webcasts are available on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will be streaming the event live.
For those in visibility areas with cooperative weather, the eclipse will be easy enough to see with the naked eye. No visual protection is necessary. A handy set of common binoculars or an amateurs, backyard telescope should be enough to get an up close and personal vivid viewing, but the phases of the eclipse will be discernible without magnification. It is suggested to get out into an open space, bring a few lawn chairs, a blanket, a bottle of wine, and a few friends.
A total lunar eclipse is the result of Earth, the sun, and a full moon in perfect alignment. As the Earth rotates, its shadow eclipses the moon, darkening its surface bit by bit. At first, it will appear as if the orb’s surface is slightly darker than normal, but eventually a deeper, darker shadow will increasingly crawl across the disc. This event is also referred to as a “blood moon,” because the shadowing effect will be revealed as a rich, ruddy color as a result of the sun’s refraction off of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is the same reaction as when the sun turns a bolder orange color at sundown. In tonight’s scenario, the refracted sunlight will extend all the way to the moon. To put it into perspective, if one were standing on the moon during the total eclipse, they would be able to see all of the sunsets and sunrises projected from Earth.
In addition to the eclipse later tonight, another astronomical happenstance will be visible. Mars will have made a cozy spot in the night sky as a fiery red bed fellow to the moon.
Tonight’s event will begin the larger event of the lunar tetrad. A lunar tetrad is a result of four consecutive total lunar eclipses without subsequent partial lunar eclipses in between, and each total lunar eclipse is spaced from the other by six full moons. The three other eclipses will being happening on October 8 of this year, and on April 8 and September 28 of 2015. Although a tetrad is a rare event, it is by no means unknown. There is predicted to be eight lunar tetrads between 2001 and 2100.
To get accurate information as far as when to watch the total lunar eclipse begin, there is a lunar eclipse computer available at U.S. Naval Observatory’s website. Simply select a viewing city and state, and a viewing time-table will be calculated. Happy moon gazing!
By Stacy Feder