Our Complete Guide to the October 8th “Hunter’s Moon” Total Lunar Eclipse

October 2014 means eclipse season 2 of 2 for the year is upon us.

Don’t fear the ‘Blood Moon’ that’s currently infecting the web, but if you find yourself on the correct moonward facing hemisphere of the planet, do get out and observe the total lunar eclipse coming right up on the morning of Wednesday, October 8th. This is the second and final total lunar eclipse of 2014, and the second of four in a quartet series of lunar eclipses known as a tetrad.

And the good news is, the eclipse once again favors nearly all of North America. From the western U.S. and Canada, the Moon will be high in the western skies when partial phases begin early in the morning on October 8th. The western U.S., Canada and Alaska will see the entire 61 minute span of totality, just 18 minutes shorter than last April’s lunar eclipse. The Moon will be high in the sky during totality for the Hawaiian Islands, and viewers in Australia and the Pacific Far East will witness the eclipse in the evening hours.

The visibility regions for the total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Espenak.

This lunar eclipse is part of saros 127, and marks number 42 of a series of 72 for that particular saros. If you witnessed the total lunar eclipse visible from North America and Europe on September 27th, 1996, you caught the last of the series, and if you catch the next eclipse in the saros on October 18th, 2032, you’ve earned a veteran lunar eclipse-watchers badge of seeing an exeligmos, or “triple saros” of eclipses.

The path of the Moon through the Earth’s umbra on October 8th. Adapted from NASA/GFSC.

Timings for key phases of the eclipse are as follows:

P1- Penumbral phase begins: 8:14 UT/4:14 EDT/1:14 PDT

U1- Umbral (partial) phase begins: 9:15 UT/5:14 EDT/2:14 PDT

U2- Totality begins: 10:24 UT/6:24 EDT/3:24 PDT

Mid-totality- 10:55 UT/6:55 EDT/3:55 PDT

U3- Totality ends: 11:25 UT/7:25 EDT/4:25 PDT

U4- Umbral phase ends: 12:35 UT/5:35 PDT

P4- Penumbral phase ends: 13:35/6:35 PDT

Not all total lunar eclipses are the same when it comes to color. Totality can appear anywhere from a dark brick color, as happened during the December 9th, 1992, eclipse following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, when the Moon nearly disappeared during totality, to a bright coppery red, as seen during the April eclipse earlier this year. The Moon passes to the north of the dark central core of the Earth’ shadow next Wednesday, so expect a brighter than normal eclipse, especially along the Moon’s northeast limb. Grab a painter’s wheel and compare the eclipsed Moon to swatches of orange through red: what colors do you see? What you’re seeing is the combinations of all the world’s sunsets refracted into the cone of the Earth’s shadow, which is about three times the size of the Moon at its average distance as seen from Earth. Remember, the Moon is experiencing a total solar eclipse as we watch the lunar eclipse unfold!

The October 8th total solar eclipse as seen from the Apollo 11 landing site on the nearside of the Moon. Created using Stellarium.

This color can be quantified and described on what is known as the Danjon Scale, with 0 being a very dark eclipse with the Moon barely visible, to a 4, meaning a very bright eclipse.

And yes, each total lunar eclipse is now receiving the “Blood Moon” meme thanks to ye ole Internet. Expect the conspiracy-minded to note that this eclipse occurs on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot starting at sundown on the 8th, which isn’t really all that wondrous as the Jewish calendar is a luni-solar one, and total lunar eclipses have to occur during a Full Moon by definition. Wait long enough, and an occasional “Sukkot total lunar eclipse” does indeed occur.

Uranus occultation
The footprint of the October 8th occultation of Uranus by the Moon during totality. (Credit: Occult 4.1.0).

But a truly rare event does occur during this eclipse, as the Moon actually occults (passes in front of) the planet Uranus during totality for observers in northern Alaska and northeast Asia. The rest of us in the observing zone will see a near miss. Can you spy Uranus with binoculars near the lunar limb during totality? Another such rarity occurred during Shakespeare’s time on December 30th, 1591, involving Saturn and the eclipsed Moon, and another such odd occurrence transpires in 2344 A.D.

2344 eclipse
The circumstances of the 2344 eclipse/occultation. Credit: Starry Night, NASA/GSFC & Occult 4.0.1.

The brightest star to be occulted by the total eclipsed Moon as it crosses the constellation Pisces is +7.9th magnitude HIP 4231 for the northern U.S. and Canada.

And speaking of historical eclipses, there’s a Columbus Day tie-in with the phenomenon as well. Like many mariners of his day, Columbus was well-versed in celestial navigation, and used a total lunar eclipse to get a good one-time fix on his longitude at sea, an experiment that you can easily replicate. Columbus also wasn’t above using prior knowledge of an impending lunar eclipse to get himself and his crew out of a bind with the locals when the need arose.

An outstanding sequence of images taken during the April 15th, 2014 total lunar eclipse. Credit: Michael Zeiler (Eclipse-Maps) Used with permission.
An outstanding sequence of images taken during the April 15th, 2014, total lunar eclipse. Credit: Michael Zeiler (Eclipse-Maps) Used with permission.

Photographing an eclipse with a DSLR is as easy as shooting an image of the Moon. Try this a few evenings before the big event. A minimum focal length of 200mm is needed to render the Moon larger than a white dot in the image, and remember that the Moon is much darker during total eclipse, and you’ll need to step the exposure times rapidly down from 1/100th of a second to 2 to 4 seconds during totality.

A long-running effort by Sky & Telescope has been looking for amateur observations of precise crater contacts along the rim of the umbra in an effort to measure variations in the diameter of the Earth’s shadow.

starry night
The Moon versus Uranus as seen from Napa, California just past mid-eclipse on the morning of October 8th. Credit: Starry Night Education Software.

As always, weather prospects are the big question mark when it comes to eclipses. Typically, the southwestern U.S. experiences 13-20 clear days in the month of October; prospects worsen to the northwest, with an average of 3-12 days. We’ll be looking at resources such as NOAA, Skippy Sky and ClearSkyChart on the evenings leading up to the 8th. The great thing about a lunar eclipse is, you don’t need a 100% clear sky to see it: just a clear view of the Moon!

Up for a challenge? We’ve yet to see a capture of a shadow transit of the International Space Station in front of the eclipsed Moon. This time around, such a capture should be possible across southern coastal California and the Baja peninsula just minutes prior to the onset of totality.

A shadow pass of the International Space Station just prior to the onset of totality. Note the position of the Moon. Created using Orbitron.

Another bizarre catch, known as a selenelion — witnessing the end of lunar totality after sunrise — may just be possible across the northeastern U.S. into the Canadian Maritimes as the eclipsed Moon sets during totality. The more elevation you can get the better! This works because the Moon lingers a bit in the large shadow of the Earth, plus atmospheric refraction gives the low altitude Sun and Moon a slight boost.

Clouded out? On the wrong side of the planet? You can watch the eclipse online at the following links:

– Live views courtesy of Gialuca Masi and the Virtual Telescope starting at 10:00 UT on October 8th.

– A live webcast starting at 9:00 UT courtesy of Slooh:

– A Columbia State University broadcast, (time to be determined).

Planning an ad-hoc broadcast? Let us know!

And as the eclipse wraps up, the biggest question is always: When’s the next one? Well, lunar eclipse number three of the four eclipse tetrad occurs next year on April 4th, 2015… but in just two weeks time, the western United States and Canada will also witness a fine partial solar eclipse on Oct 23rd

Stay tuned!

Got images of the total lunar eclipse? Send ‘em in to Universe Today’s Flickr forum!

Interested in eclipse sci-fi? Check out our latest short stories Exeligmos and Shadowfall.

This Week’s Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and the Astronomy of Columbus

You can always count on an eclipse to get you out of a delicate situation. Today is Columbus Day in the United States and Thanksgiving north of the border in Canada. Later this week also marks the start of the second eclipse season for 2013. Today, we thought we’d take a look at the circumstances for the first eclipse of the season kicking off this coming Friday night, October 18, as well as the fascinating role that eclipses played in the life and times of Christopher Columbus.

Friday’s event is a penumbral lunar eclipse, meaning that the Full Moon will only pass through the outer bright rim of the Earth’s shadow. Such events are subtle affairs, as opposed to total and partial lunar eclipses, which occur when the Moon enters the dark inner core, or umbra, of the Earth’s shadow. Still, you may just be able to notice a slight dusky shading on the lower southern limb of the Moon as it flirts with the umbra, barely missing it around the time of central eclipse at 23:51 Universal Time/ 7:51 PM Eastern Daylight Saving Time. Friday night’s penumbral is 3 hours and 59 minutes in duration, and 76.5% of the disk of the Moon will be immersed in the penumbra at maximum eclipse.

The visibility footprint and circumstances of this week’s penumbral lunar eclipse. (Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC).

Key Events occurring on Friday, October 18th:

21:50UT/5:50PM EDT: 1st contact with the Earth’s shadow.

23:51UT/7:51PM EDT: Mid-eclipse.

01:49UT(Oct 19th)/9:49PM EDT: Last contact. Eclipse ends.

The eclipse will be underway at moonrise for North and South America and occur at moonset for central Asia— Africa and Europe will see the entire eclipse. Standing on Earth’s Moon, an observer on the nearside would see a partial solar eclipse.

A simulation of Friday's lunar eclipse, looking back from Earth Moon at mid-eclipse. (Credit:
A simulation of Friday’s lunar eclipse, looking back from Moon at mid-eclipse. (Wikimedia Commons graphic in the Public Domain).

This eclipse is the 3rd and final lunar eclipse of 2013, and the 5th overall. It’s also the first in a series of four descending node eclipses, including the total lunar eclipse of October 8th next year.   It’s also the 52nd eclipse of 72 in the lunar saros series 117, which started on April 3rd, 1094 and will end with a final lunar eclipse on May 15th, 2356. Saros 117 produced its last total lunar eclipse in 1815 and its final partial in 1941.

Though penumbrals are slight events, we’ve been able to notice an appreciable difference before, during and after the eclipse photographically:

Penumbral I
Can you spy the difference? The May 18th, 2002 penumbral lunar eclipse before (left) and during mid-eclipse (right). Photos by Author.

Be sure to use identical exposure settings to catch this effect. Locations where the Moon rides high in the sky also stand the best chance of imaging the faint penumbral shading, as the Moon will be above the discoloring effects of the thicker air mass low to the horizon.

The Moon reaches descending node along the ecliptic about 20 hours after the end of the eclipse, and reaches apogee just over six days later on October 25th. The October Full Moon is also known as the Hunter’s Moon, providing a bit of extra illumination on the Fall hunt.

And this sets us up for the second eclipse of the season the next time the Moon crosses an ecliptic node, a hybrid (annular-total) solar eclipse spanning the Atlantic and Africa on November 3rd. More to come on that big ticket event soon!

In Columbus’s day, the Moon was often used to get a rough fix of a ship’s longitude at sea. Columbus was especially intrigued with the idea of using lunar eclipses to determine longitude. If you can note the position of the Moon in the sky from one location versus a known longitude during an event— such as first contact of the Moon with the Earth’s umbra during an eclipse —you can gauge your relative longitude east or west of the point. The sky moves 15 degrees, or one hour of right ascension overhead as we rotate under it. One of the earliest records of this method comes to us from Ptolemy, who deduced Alexander the Great’s position 30 degrees (2 hours) east of Carthage during the lunar eclipse of September 20th, 331 B.C. Alexander noted that the eclipse began two hours after sunset from his locale, while in Carthage it was recorded that the eclipse began at sunset.

A Jacob's crossstaff, a simple tool for measuring angles in the sky. (Photo by Author).
A Jacob’s cross staff, a simple tool for measuring angles in the sky. (Charles Towne Landing Historic Site Museum, Photo by Author).

Columbus was a student of Ptolemy, and used this method during voyages to and from the New World during the lunar eclipses of September 14th, 1494 and February 29, 1504. Of course, such a method is only approximate. The umbra of the Earth often appears ragged and indistinct on the edge of the lunar disk at the start of an eclipse, making it tough to judge the actual beginning of an eclipse by more than ten of minutes or so. And remember, you’re often watching from the pitching deck of a ship to boot!

Another problem also plagued Columbus’s navigation efforts: he favored a smaller Earth than we now know is reality. Had he listened to another Greek astronomer by the name of Eratosthenes, he would’ve gotten his measurements pretty darned close.

An eclipse also saved Columbus’s butt on one occasion. The story goes that tensions had come to a head between the locals and Columbus’s crew while stranded on the island of Jamaica in 1504. Noting that a lunar eclipse was about to occur on March 1st  (the evening of February 29th for North America), Columbus told the local leader that the Moon would rise “inflamed with wrath,” as indeed it did that night, right on schedule. Columbus then made a great show of pretending to pray for heavenly intersession, after which the Moon returned to its rightful color.  This kept a conniving Columbus and his crew stocked in supplies until a rescue ship arrived in June of that year.

A depiction of the 1504 lunar eclipse from the 1879 text Astronomie Populare by Camille Flammarion.
A depiction of the 1504 lunar eclipse from the 1879 text Astronomie Populare by Camille Flammarion.

Be sure to check out this Friday’s penumbral eclipse, and amaze your friends with the prediction of the next total lunar eclipse which occurs on U.S. Tax Day next year on April 15th, 2014. Can you do a better job of predicting your longitude than Columbus?