Moon-Day! Tonight’s the Night for Lunar Eclipse – NBCNews.com
Monday night’s marvels are worth staying up late for: Not only will Mars be bigger and brighter than it’s been for more than six years, but you’ll also be able to see the first total lunar eclipse in more than two years.
Total lunar eclipses occur when Earth is positioned precisely between the sun and the full moon. Because of the tilt of the moon’s orbit, total eclipses don’t happen all that often — about twice in the course of three years, on average. When they do, it can be a spectacular sight: The darkened moon takes on a reddish glow because of the sunlight refracted by Earth’s atmosphere.
The last total lunar eclipse took place in December 2011, but we’re coming up on a series of four such events, known as a tetrad, which is dictated by a recurrence of the right orbital parameters. After Monday night’s eclipse, the other three are due on Oct. 8, and then next year on April 4 and Sept. 28.
“The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA,” eclipse expert Fred Espenak said in a NASA preview.
Moon-Day isn’t Doomsday
Some doomsayers are selling the “Blood Moon” tetrad as an evil omen, but that’s bogus. The only thing that’s scary about this eclipse is what it might do to your sleep schedule: The moon won’t start crossing into Earth’s shadow until 12:53 a.m. ET Tuesday, and the total phase of the eclipse lasts from 3:06 to 4:24 a.m. ET. Espenak lays out the details on NASA’s eclipse-centric Web site.
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are visible to half the world at the same time. This time around, North America is prime territory, but portions of the eclipse can be seen from parts of South America, Europe and Asia just before sunrise, and parts of Asia and the Pacific just after sunset.
You may have heard all those warnings about protecting your eyes during a solar eclipse — but a lunar eclipse is totally different, and totally safe. Look all you want. Want a closer look? Use binoculars. Want to take a picture? Espenak tells you how.
Even if the skies are cloudy, you can get in on the show over the Web and via social media. To keep up with the stream, follow the hashtag #eclipse and keep an eye on NASA’s Facebook page.
NASA is planning an “Up All Night” chat that starts at 1 a.m. ET Tuesday and continues until the eclipse is completely finished, around 5 a.m. ET. NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams and astrophysicist Alphonse Sterling will be available to answer your questions. A live Ustream view of the lunar eclipse, provided by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, will accompany the commentary.
The Slooh virtual observatory is planning its own webcast at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday, featuring live feeds from various locations and commentary from host Paul Cox and astronomer Bob Berman. Guests include Timothy Ferris, author of “Seeing in the Dark”; and Duncan Copp, producer of the award-winning film “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Tune in the show via Slooh.com, YouTube or the Slooh iPad app, and ask questions using the hashtag #slooh.
The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 has a webcast as well, starting at 2:30 a.m. ET.
- Nine cool facts about lunar eclipses
- Why an eclipse paints the moon red
- Flash interactive: What causes a lunar eclipse?
Get in on Mars and more
The moon isn’t the only spacey attraction out there: It’s also prime time for seeing Mars at its biggest and brightest. Mars reaches the closest point to Earth in its orbit on Monday, passing by at a distance of 57 million miles (92 million kilometers). On Monday night, it’ll rise just before the moon and shine like a butterscotch-colored star virtually all night. Check out our viewing guide for the details.
This is the closest Mars has been since late 2007, but after Monday night, Mars will recede from Earth for about a year, then make another approach for an even closer encounter in 2016. Slooh is planning a separate viewing party for Mars, starting 10 p.m. ET Monday.
The International Space Station should be visible passing through evening skies over some parts of the United States — to get the viewing schedule for your location, consult NASA’s “Spot the Station” website. Jupiter, Saturn and Venus are also out: For details on those night sights, head on over to EarthSky and Sky & Telescope.
Monday night will be a hard act to follow, but there’s more to come. In the weeks ahead, two meteor showers will be hitting their peak: the Lyrids and the Eta Aquarids. Getting up in the middle of the night for Moon-Day will be good experience for those coming attractions.
Got pictures to share? Alert us to them by using the hashtag #EclipseNBC on Twitter or Instagram, sending your favorite via our FirstPerson photo-upload page, or sharing them on the NBC News Science Facebook page.
Tip o’ the Log to Sky & Telescope for the eclipse photo and graphics.