Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Set Your Alarms: Total Lunar Eclipse Tomorrow Morning

Rise and shine early tomorrow morning to catch the last total lunar eclipse of 2014. The Moon will be visible from nearly all of North America as it passes through the shadow of the Earth and 'blushes' red in the early hours of October 8th.
Animation credit: Tomreun
Viewers in the western United States and Canada will be able to witness all 59 minutes of eclipse totality, when the moon is fully-contained within the shadow of the Earth. On the eastern side of North America, the partial and total eclipse phases will be visible just as the Moon is setting in the west tomorrow morning, starting at 5:15AM Eastern Time, according to NASA.
Image credit: NASA, GSFC, F. Espenak
This particular eclipse marks the second of four consecutive total lunar eclipses over two years, in a series known as a tetrad. You may remember the first eclipse of this series, which occurred back in April 2014. If you missed that one, consider tomorrow your second chance! If a cloudy sky or the snooze button prevails, you can mark your calendars for the next lunar eclipse in the series, which will occur on April 4th, 2015.

Image credit: NASA, GSFC, F. Espenak
Every 28 days a full moon occurs when the Sun and the Moon line up on opposite sides of the Earth, but because of differences in orbital plane tilts, this occurrence does not guarantee an eclipse. But two or three times a year, the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon will all line up perfectly (a phenomena known as a syzygy) and a lunar or solar eclipse is the result.

Image Credit: NASA/Sagredo via Wikimedia Commons
Tomorrow morning we will be witnessing a lunar eclipse. At this point in the lunar cycle, the moon would normally be fully illuminated by the Sun. However, because of the celestial alignment, the Sun's light will be largely blocked by the Earth and the Moon will appear in shadow.

The sunlight that passes around the edges of the Earth has to travel through much of our thick and particle-filled atmosphere, and like at a sunset or sunrise, this causes the light to develop a reddish hue, which in turn casts a ruddy glow on the surface on the Moon. This is because red light, which has the longest wavelength of the visible spectrum, is scattered the less than the rest of the colors and tends to survive the trip through the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is particularly dusty due to recent wildfires or volcanos, the reddish hue will be heightened.

In recent years the term 'Blood Moon' has become popular to describe this red glow. While there is nothing remotely sinister about a lunch eclipse, the term particularly appropriate for the month of October!

You can follow tomorrow's eclipse live at NASA's webcast, starting at 3AM Eastern Time.

For more details on how and when to watch the eclipse, see Sky and Telescope's handy guide.

Share your lunar eclipse photos with the Universe Today community via their flickr page.

Happy Eclipsing!

--
By Tamela Maciel, also known as "pendulum"

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