Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Monday, April 14, 2014

COSMIC STRINGS ALERT: Lunar Eclipse Overnight Tonight!

Greetings folks!

Tonight you have the chance to see the Moon slide through the Earth's shadow in what's known as a lunar eclipse.  Because the shadow of the Earth does contain some light (namely, the light from all the sunrises and sunsets occurring around the world through the atmosphere), the Moon takes on a fascinating reddish color.  Therefore, lunar eclipses are sometimes referred to as "blood Moons."  Don't worry...despite all the hype running around the internet, there's nothing scary, dangerous, or Earth-shattering about tonight's eclipse.

The Moon in eclipse.  Courtesy Fred Espenak and NASA.

To see this wonderful event, get up around 2AM.  That's when the Full Moon will begin dipping into the shadow of the Earth.  It will take almost an hour for the Moon to move all the way into the shadow.  Once the Moon is totally eclipsed, the color will become clear.  It will be interesting to see how red the Moon looks...sometimes the light scattering into the shadow makes the Moon an almost bright orange...sometimes it can turn the Moon a very deep red, almost brown color.  It will all depend on the state of the Earth's atmosphere tonight - how much dust is in it, how much pollution, and other factors.

The eclipse will continue until sunrise, so depending on whether you have work or school on Tuesday (or still need to finish your taxes!), you might want to just watch a little while, and then head on back to bed.

This eclipse is the first of a tetrad, a group of four consecutive total lunar eclipses, over the next year and a half or so.  So if you miss this one...stay tuned...maybe you can catch the next one!

Carpe noctem!

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