Posted 4/08/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
If you like to gaze into the night sky, then you are in for a real treat on Tuesday, April 15 when we will be able to witness a total lunar eclipse. And for those of us in North America, if the skies are clear, during the early morning hours you will be able to see the bright full moon turn a reddish hue.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon line up. During such times, the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, and where it passes determines the type of eclipse we’ll see.
Our planet’s shadow has two parts: a darker inner section called the umbra and a lighter outer region called the penumbra. When the Moon passes through only the penumbra, we experience a penumbral eclipse. When only some of it passes through the umbra, we see a partial eclipse. Sometimes, however, all of the Moon passes through the umbra, creating a total lunar eclipse. That’s what’s happening on April 15.
The total lunar eclipse event will start at 11:54 p.m. CDT on Monday, April 14 as the Moon enters the penumbra of the Earth’s shadow, but most people won’t see any changes in the Moon’s appearance for at least a half-hour after this time.
But things will begin to heat up at 12:58 a.m. CDT on Tuesday morning as the Moon first hits the Earth’s umbral shadow and the partial phase begins. For more than an hour you’ll see the dark part grow until totality begins at 2:07 a.m. CDT. Totality lasts 78 minutes, until 3:25 a.m. CDT.
The Moon’s appearance during totality can vary greatly from one eclipse to the next. The path the Moon takes through the Earth’s umbra — and how centered it is — has an effect. But so does our atmosphere. It can darken the shadow because it contains water droplets and solid particles like dust and ash, which reduce the air’s clarity. Lots of clouds along the edge of our planet also can cut down the light.
But in addition to appearing dark, this particular eclipse is being call the “Red Moon” or the “Blood Moon.” Every time the Moon passes completely into the shadow of the Earth, it turns a reddish color -- sometimes a bright copper, other times the dark reddish brown of dried blood. The red color occurs because even when the Earth has moved directly between the Moon and the Sun, the scattered light from all the sunsets and sunrises on the rim of our globe still make it to the Moon’s surface.
So if you have trouble sleeping or just want to stay up a better part of the evening, you will want to turn your eyes skyward toward the Moon and catch a real treat. The last time a total lunar eclipse was visible from the United States was on Dec. 11, 2011.