Tuesday’s Blood Moon Total Lunar Eclipse: When and Where to Watch
During the early hours of Tuesday, darkness will slide across the face of the moon before it turns a deep blood red. No, it’s not an Election Day omen – it’s one of the most eye-catching sights in the night sky.
Anyone awake in the United States will have a front-row seat as the sun, Earth and moon line up, causing the moon to pass through Earth’s shadow in the last total lunar eclipse until 2025.
“To me, the most remarkable thing about a lunar eclipse is that it gives you a sense of three-dimensional geometry that you rarely get in space — one orb passing through the shadow of another,” said Bruce Betts, chief scientist at the Planetary Society.
Here’s what you need to know about viewing the eclipse.
When and where to watch the eclipse
In North America, observers on the West Coast will have the best view. At 12:02 PM PT, the moon will enter the outer part of Earth’s shadow and dim slightly. But the total phase of the eclipse — the real star of the show — won’t begin until 2:16 a.m. Totality will last approximately 90 minutes until 3:41 a.m., and by 5:56 a.m. the moon will have returned to its familiar silvery hue.
“The big problem here is going to be that it’s before Election Day,” said Andrew Fraknoi, an astronomer at the University of San Francisco. “I joke that a lot of people are so nervous about Election Day this year that they might stay up all night watching it.”
East Coast viewers, on the other hand, will have to set their alarms early. While they won’t be able to view the entire eclipse, they can catch totality, which will last from 5:16 a.m. ET to 6:41 a.m., about when the moon sets over the northeasternmost parts of the United States. Early risers should look toward the northwest horizon to catch the ruby moon.
For those in the Midwest, totality will turn the moon red from 4:16 a.m. Central Time until 5:41 a.m. Central Time, and for those in the Rockies, totality will occur one hour earlier.
In addition to North and Central America, sky watchers will be able to view the eclipse in East Asia and Australia, where it will occur in the early evening after moonrise. NASA visibility map provides additional details.
Regardless of where you are and what phase of the eclipse is occurring, it is safe to view with the naked eye.
What makes a blood moon?
It may come as a surprise that the moon doesn’t just darken when it enters the Earth’s shadow. This is because moonlight is usually just reflected sunlight. And while most of that sunlight is blocked during a lunar eclipse, some wraps around the edges of our planet — the edges that experience sunrise and sunset at that moment. This filters out the shorter, blue wavelengths and allows only the redder, longer wavelengths to reach the moon.
“A romantic way to look at it is that it’s like seeing all the sunsets and sunrises on Earth at the same time,” said Dr. Bets.
That view is drastically different from the view of some of our ancestors. “For many cultures, the disappearance of the moon was seen as a time of danger, of chaos,” said Shanil Virani, an astronomer at George Washington University.
The Incas, for example, believed that a jaguar attacked the moon during an eclipse. The Mesopotamians saw it as an attack on their king. In ancient Hindu mythology, a demon swallowed the moon.
But not all lunar eclipses result in the deep red color that led to the nickname “blood moon.” Just as the intensity of a sunrise or sunset can vary from day to day, so can the colors of an eclipse. It mainly depends on the particles in our planet’s atmosphere. Forest fire smoke or volcanic dust can deepen the red hues of a sunset, and can also affect the hue of an eclipsed moon. But if the atmosphere is especially clear during a lunar eclipse, more light will pass through it, causing a brighter red moon, perhaps even a reddish orange.
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