Published: 2014-04-13 13:41:00
Updated: 2014-04-14 13:30:00
Posted April 13, 2014
Updated April 14, 2014
By Tony Rice
Early Tuesday morning, the full moon will move through Earth’s shadow. It will spend 78 minutes bathed in an orangey-red light created as sunlight refracts through Earth’s atmosphere. This total lunar eclipse is the first of four visible to North America this year and next. Lunar eclipses on Oct. 8, 2014, and April 4, 2015, will be visible before sunrise. An eclipse on Sept. 28, 2015, will begin a more family-friendly few hours after sunset.
This grouping of four total eclipses, also called a tetrad, last happened in in 2003-4. Tetrads aren’t that rare. A total of nine tetrads will occur in during the 21st century. The opportunity to see so many eclipses visible from our area is rare and should help make up for any weather should it get in our way Tuesday morning.
Look to the south to the full moon (a lunar eclipse requirement). No telescope is needed. Just look for the gaps in the clouds to enjoy the show. Here's the timeline:
During totality, the moon will appear a reddish-orange color. We won't know the color until it actually happens because it is dependent on global atmospheric conditions at the time. The June 2011 eclipse appeared particularly red due to ash from eruption of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano in Chile. That beautiful color is actually all sunrises and sunsets on Earth projected simultaneously onto the lunar surface.
The most spectacular show happens inside the umbra, the darker inner region of the shadow cast by Earth. The moon also passes through the lighter penumbra but darkening of the moon is so slight it is difficult to notice much difference.
The moon isn’t the only sight worth seeing. There will be other celestial sights to look for Tuesday or any morning for the next week or two.
Just below the moon lies Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo and among the brightest in the sky. Spica has a bluish color.
Less than 10 degrees to the right (about the width of your outstretched fist), you’ll find orangey Mars. It will be bright and easy to spot for a few more weeks after its opposition last week.
Saturn can be found about 25 degrees to the left (about the with of your outstretched thumb and pinky – hang loose).
If our weather spoils the view, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will be streaming views of the eclipse live. NASA TV will also provide three hours of live coverage of the eclipse beginning at 2 a.m
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.