See a Flirtatious Lunar Eclipse This Friday Night

This sequence of photos taken on October 18, 2013 nicely show the different phases of a penumbral lunar eclipse. The coming penumbral eclipse will likely appear even darker because Earth’s shadow will shade to the top (northern) half of the Moon rich in dark lunar “seas” at maximum. Credit: AstroTripper 2000

Not many people get excited about a penumbral eclipse, but when it’s a deep one and the only lunar eclipse visible in North America this year, it’s worth a closer look. What’s more, this Friday’s eclipse happens during convenient, early-evening viewing hours. No getting up in the raw hours before dawn.

Lunar eclipses — penumbral, partial and total — always occur at Full Moon, when the Moon, Earth and Sun line up squarely in a row in that order. Only then does the Moon pass through the shadow cast by our planet. Credit: Starry Night with additions by the author

During a partial or total lunar eclipse, the full moon passes first through the Earth’s outer shadow, called the penumbra, before entering the dark, interior shadow or umbra. The penumbra is nowhere near as dark as the inner shadow because varying amounts of direct sunlight filter into it, diluting its duskiness.

To better understand this, picture yourself watching the eclipse from the center of the Moon’s disk (latitude 0°, longitude 0°). As you look past the Earth toward the Sun, you would see the Sun gradually covered or eclipsed by the Earth. Less sunlight would be available to illuminate the Moon, so your friends back on Earth would notice a gradual dimming of the Moon, very subtle at first but becoming more noticeable as the eclipse progressed.

This diagram shows an approximation of the Sun’s position and size as viewed by an observer at the center of the lunar disk during Friday’s penumbral eclipse. More sunlight shines across the Moon early in the eclipse, making the penumbral shadow very pale, but by maximum (right), half the sun is covered and the Moon appears darker and duskier as seen from Earth. During a total lunar eclipse, the sun is hidden completely. Credit: Bob King with Earth image by NASA

As the Moon’s leading edge approached the penumbra-umbra border, the Sun would narrow to a glaring sliver along Earth’s limb for our lucky lunar observer. Back on Earth, we’d notice that the part of the Moon closest to the umbra looked strangely gray and dusky, but the entire lunar disk would still be plainly visible. That’s what we’ll see during Friday’s eclipse. The Moon will slide right up to the umbra and then roll by, never dipping its toes in its dark waters.

During a partial eclipse, the Moon keeps going into the umbra, where the Sun is completely blocked from view save for dash of red light refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere into what would otherwise be an inky black shadow. This eclipse, the Moon only flirts with the umbra.

The moon’s orbit is tilted 5.1 degrees in relation to Earth’s orbit, so most Full Moons, it passes above or below the shadow and no eclipse occurs. Credit: Bob King

Because the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5° from the plane of Earth’s orbit, it rarely lines up for a perfect bullseye total eclipse: Sun – Earth – Moon in a straight line in that order. Instead, the moon typically passes a little above or below (north or south) of the small, circle-shaped shadow cast by our planet, and no eclipse occurs. Or it clips the outer edge of the shadow and we see — you guessed it — a penumbral eclipse.

Earth’s shadow varies in size depending where you are in it. Standing on the ground during twilight, it can grow to cover the entire sky, but at the moon’s distance of 239,000 miles, the combined penumbra and umbra span just 2.5° of sky or about the width of your thumb held at arm’s length.

The moon passes through Earth’s outer shadow, the penumbra, on Feb. 10-11. In the umbra, the sun is blocked from view, but the outer shadow isn’t as dark because varying amounts of sunlight filter in to dilute the darkness. Times are Central Standard. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA’s GFSC with additions by the author

Because the Moon travels right up to the umbra during Friday’s eclipse, it will be well worth watching.The lower left  or eastern half of the moon will appear obviously gray and blunted especially around maximum eclipse as it rises in the eastern sky that Friday evening over North and South America. I should mention here that the event is also visible from Europe, Africa, S. America and much of Asia.

This map shows where the eclipse will be visible. Most of the U.S. will see at least part of the event. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA’s GFSC

For the U.S., the eastern half of the country gets the best views. Here are CST and UT times for the different stages. To convert from CST, add an hour for Eastern, subtract one hour for Mountain and two hours for Pacific times. UT stands for Universal Time, which is essentially the same as Greenwich or “London” Time except when Daylight Saving Time is in effect:

This is a simulated view of the Full Snow Moon at maximum eclipse Friday evening low in the eastern sky alongside the familiar asterism known as the Sickle of Leo. Created with Stellarium

Eclipse begins: 4:34 p.m. (22:34 p.m. UT)
Maximum eclipse (moon deepest in shadow): 6:44 p.m. (00:43 UT Feb. 11)
Eclipse ends: 8:53 p.m. (2:53 UT Feb. 11)

You can see that the eclipse plays out over more than 4 hours, though I don’t expect most of us will either be able or would want to devote that much time. Instead, give it an hour or so when the Moon is maximally in shadow from 6 to 7:30 p.m. CST; 7-8:30 EST; 5-6:30 p.m. MST and around moonrise Pacific time.

This should be a fine and obvious eclipse because around the time of maximum, the darkest part of the penumbra shades the dark, mare-rich northern hemisphere of the Moon. Dark plus dark equals extra dark! Good luck and clear skies!

A Bloody Beautiful Supermoon Eclipse!

Like some of you, I outran the clouds just in time to catch last night’s total lunar eclipse. What a beautiful event! Here are some gorgeous pictures from our readers and Universe Today staff — souvenirs if you will — of the last total lunar eclipse anywhere until January 31, 2018. The sky got so dark, and the Moon hung like a plum in Earth’s shadow for what seemed a very long time. Did you estimate the Moon’s brightness on the Danjon Scale? My brother and I both came up with L=2 from two widely-separated locations; William Wiethoff in Hayward, Wisconsin rated it L=1. All three estimates would indicate a relatively dark eclipse.

Nicely-done sequence of eclipse phases taken early September 28, 2015. Credit: Own Llewellyn
Nicely-done sequence of eclipse phases taken early September 28, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Own Llewellyn

The darkness of the umbra was particularly noticeable in the west quarter of the Moon in the giant volcanic plain known as Oceanus Procellarum. This makes sense as that portion of the Moon was located closest to the center of the Earth’s dark, inner umbra. The plain is also dark compared to the brighter lunar highlights, which being more reflective, formed a sort of pale ring around the northern rim of the lunar disk.

Salute to the eclipse! Credit: Jason Major
Salute to the final eclipse of the current tetrad that began 17 months ago.  Credit: Jason Major

The bottom or southern rim of the Moon, located farthest from the center of the umbra, appeared a lighter yellow-orange throughout totality.

Wide angle view of the Moon during totality in star-rich sky with the Aquila Milky visible at right. Credit: Bob King
Wide angle view of the Moon (lower left) during totality in a star-rich sky with the Aquila Milky Way visible at right. Credit: Bob King

This is just a small sampling of the excellent images arriving from our readers. More are flowing in on Universe Today’s Flickr site.  Thank you everyone for your submissions!

A crowd gather to watch the Moon during partial eclipse prior to totality. Credit: Robert Sparks
A crowd gather to watch the Moon during partial eclipse prior to totality. Credit: Robert Sparks
A hint of the penumbra shows in this photo. Hint: look near left top. Credit: Roger Hutchinson
A hint of the penumbra shows in this photo. Hint: look near left top. Credit: Roger Hutchinson
A bloody Moon iindeed! Credit: Chris Lyons
A bloody Moon iindeed! Notice how dark Oceanus Procellarum (top) appears. Credit: Chris Lyons
"Super Blood Moon". Credit: Alok SInghal
“Super Blood Moon”. Credit: Alok Singhal
Nice montage of images from eclipse start to finish. Credit: Mike Greenham
Nice montage of images from eclipse start to finish. Credit: Mike Greenham
One of the most awesome aspects of the eclipse was how many stars could be seen near the Moon. This picture was taken with a 100mm telesphoto lens. Credit: Bob King
One of the most awesome aspects of the eclipse was how many stars could be seen near the Moon. This picture was taken with a 100mm telesphoto lens. Credit: Bob King
Rare shot of the totally eclipsed Moon and bright meteor. Credit: VegaStar Carpentier Photography
Rare shot of the totally eclipsed Moon and bright meteor. Credit: VegaStar Carpentier Photography
A lucky break in the clouds made this photographer happy. Credit: Moe Ali
A lucky break in the clouds made this photographer happy. Credit: Moe Ali
Mary Spicer made exposures every 5 minutes. During totality the Moon dropped behind a tree so I had to relocate the camera, hence the small gap in the sequence. 35 shots in total, stacked using StarStax. Credit: Mary Spicer
Mary Spicer made exposures of the eclipsed Moon every 5 minutes. During totality, the Moon dropped behind a tree so she had to relocate the camera, hence the small gap in the sequence. 35 shots in total and stacked into one frame using StarStax. Credit: Mary Spicer
The Moon caught after totality between clouds through a small refracting telescope. Credit: Bob King
The Moon caught after totality between clouds through a small refracting telescope. Credit: Bob King
Another nice montage displaying all the partial phases, early, mid and late totality. Credit: Andre van der Hoeven
Another fine montage displaying all the partial phase plus early, mid and late totality. Credit: Andre van der Hoeven

Don’t Blink! April 4th Lunar Eclipse Shortest of the Century

Get ready for one awesome total lunar eclipse early Saturday morning April 4th. For the third time in less than a year, the Moon dips into Earth’s shadow, its dazzling white globe turning sunset red right before your eyes.  All eclipses are not-to-miss events, but Saturday’s totality will be the shortest in a century. Brief but beautiful – just like life. Read on to find out how to make the most of it.

Four total lunars in succession is called a tetrad. During the 21st century there are nine sets of tetrads. Credit: NASA
Four total lunar eclipses in succession with no partials in between is called a tetrad. The April 4th eclipse is part of a tetrad that started last April and will wrap up on September 28. During the 21st century there will be eight sets of tetrads. Credit: NASA

Lunar eclipses don’t usually happen in any particular order. A partial eclipse is followed by a total is followed by a penumbral and so on. Instead, we’re in the middle of a tetrad, four total eclipses in a row with no partials in between. The final one happens on September 28.  Even more remarkable, part or all of them are visible from the U.S. Tetrads will be fairly common in the 21st century with eight in all. We’re lucky — between 1600 and 1900 there were none! For an excellent primer on the topic check out fellow Universe Today writer David Dickinson’s “The Science Behind the Blood Moon Tetrad“.

The Moon moves out of total eclipse and into partial phases during the second of the four tetrad eclipses on October 8, 2015. Credit: Bob King
The partially eclipsed Moon on October 8, 2015.  For skywatchers across the eastern half of North America, this is about how the Moon will appear shortly before it sets. Those living further west will see totality. Credit: Bob King

Lots of people have taken to calling the tetrad eclipses Blood Moons, referring to the coppery color of lunar disk when steeped in Earth’s shadow and the timing of both April events on the Jewish Passover. Me? I prefer Bacon-and-Eggs Moon. For many of us, the eclipse runs right up till sunrise with the Moon setting in bright twilight around 6:30 a.m. What better time to enjoy a celebratory breakfast with friends after packing away your gear?

Map showing where the April 4 lunar eclipse will be penumbral, partial and total. Inset shows a world map. Credit: Larry Koehn / shadowandsubstance.com
Map showing where the April 4 lunar eclipse will be penumbral, partial and total. World map shown in inset. Credit: Larry Koehn / shadowandsubstance.com Inset: Fred Espenak

But seriously, Saturday morning’s eclipse will prove challenging for some. While observers in far western North America, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand and Australia will witness the entire event, those in the mountain states will see the Moon set while still in totality. Meanwhile, skywatchers in the Midwest and points East will see only the partial phases in a brightening dawn sky. Here are the key times of eclipse events by time zone:

A total lunar eclipse occurs only during Full Moons when the Sun, Earth and Moon form a straight line. The Moon slips directly behind Earth into its shadow. The outer part of the shadow or penumbra is a mix of sunlight and shadow. The inner cone, called the umbra, the Sun is completely blocked from view. However, light refracted by Earth's atmosphere is bent into the umbra where it colors the eclipsed Moon red.
A total lunar eclipse occurs only during full moon phase when the Sun, Earth and Moon lie in a straight line. The Moon slips directly behind Earth into its shadow. The outer part of the shadow or penumbra is a mix of sunlight and shadow and only partially dark. From  the inner shadow, called the umbra, the Sun is completely blocked from view. A small amount of sunlight refracted or bent by Earth’s atmosphere into the umbra, spills into the shadow, coloring the eclipsed Moon red.

Eclipse Events                                     EDT              CDT              MDT             PDT

Penumbra eclipse begins 5:01 a.m. 4:01 a.m. 3:01 a.m. 2:01 a.m.
Partial eclipse begins 6:16 a.m. 5:16 a.m. 4:16 a.m. 3:16 a.m.
Total eclipse begins ——– ——– 5:58 a.m. 4:58 a.m.
Greatest eclipse ——– ——– 6:00 a.m. 5:00 a.m.
Total eclipse ends ——– ——– 6:03 a.m. 5:03 a.m.
Partial eclipse ends ——— ——– ——– 6:45 a.m.
Penumbra eclipse ends ——— ——— ——– ——–

* During the penumbral phase, shading won’t be obvious until ~30 minutes before partial eclipse.

Partial eclipse, when the Moon first enters Earth's dark, inner shadow called the umbra, begins at 5:16 a.m. CDT near the start of morning twilight. Totality begins at 6:58 a.m. with the Moon already set for the eastern half of the country.  Credit: Fred Espenak
Partial eclipse, when the Moon first enters Earth’s dark umbral shadow, begins at 5:16 a.m. CDT near the start of morning twilight. Totality begins at 6:58 a.m. with the Moon already set for the eastern half of the country. Credit: Fred Espenak

This eclipse will also be the shortest total eclipse of the 21st century; our satellite spends just 4 minutes and 43 seconds inside Earth’s umbra or shadow core. That’s only as long as a typical solar eclipse totality. Ah, the irony.

Better have your camera ready or you’ll miss it. The maps below show the maximum amount of the Moon visible shortly before setting from two eastern U.S. cities and the height of the totally eclipsed Moon from two western locations. Click each panel for more details about local circumstances.

The Earth's shadow will take only a small bite out of the Moon before sunrise (6:47 a.m.) as seen from Washington D.C. Source: Stellarium
The Earth’s shadow will take only a small bite out of the Moon before sunrise (6:47 a.m.) as seen from Washington D.C. From all mainland U.S. locations Virgo’s brightest star Spica will appear about 10° to the left of the Moon. Source: Stellarium
Here's the view from Chicago where sunrise occurs at 6:27 a.m. Source: Stellarium
Here’s the view from Chicago where sunrise occurs at 6:27 a.m.  Source: Stellarium
Totality will be visible From Denver, Colorado with the Moon low in the western sky. Source: Stellarium
Totality will be visible From Denver, Colorado with the Moon low in the western sky in morning twilight. Sunrise is 6:42 a.m. Source: Stellarium
Seattle and the West Coast get a great view of totality in a dark sky. The final partial phases will also be visible. Sunrise there is 6:40 a.m. Source: Stellarium
Seattle and the West Coast get a great view of totality in a dark sky. The final partial phases will also be visible. Sunrise there is 6:40 a.m. Source: Stellarium

Now that you know times and shadow coverage, let’s talk about the fun part — what to look for as the event unfolds. You’ll need to find a location in advance with a good view to the southwest as most of the action happens in that direction. Once that detail’s taken care of and assuming clear weather, you can kick back in a folding chair or with your back propped against a hillside and enjoy.

During the early partial phases you may not see the shadowed portion of the Moon with the naked eye. Binoculars and telescopes will show it plainly. But once the Moon's about 50% covered, the reddish-orange tint of the shadowed half becomes obvious. Credit: Jim Schaff
During the early partial phases you may not see the shadowed portion of the Moon with the naked eye. Binoculars and telescopes will show it plainly. But once the Moon is about 50% covered, the reddish-orange tint of the shadowed half becomes obvious. During total eclipse (right), the color is intense.  Credit: Jim Schaff

The entire eclipse can be enjoyed without any optical aid, though I recommend a look through binoculars now and then. The eclipsed Moon appears distinctly three-dimensional with only the slightest magnification, hanging there like an ornament among the stars. The Earth’s shadow appears to advance over the Moon, but the opposite is true; the Moon’s eastward orbital motion carries it deeper and deeper into the umbra.

Nibble by nibble the sunlit Moon falls into shadow. By the time it’s been reduced to half, the shaded portion looks distinctly red even to the naked eye. Notice that the shadow is curved. We live on a spherical planet and spheres cast circular shadows. Seeing the globe of Earth projected against the Moon makes the roundness of our home planet palpable.

Artist view of Earth totally eclipsing the sun as viewed from the moon. Low angled sunlight filtered by our atmosphere is reddened in exactly the same way a setting sun is reddened. That red light bathes the moon’s surface which reflects a bit of it back toward Earth, giving us a red moon during totality.
A simulated view looking back at Earth from the Moon during a total lunar eclipse on Earth. Sunlight grazing Earth’s circumference gets filtered by our atmosphere in exactly the same way the setting or rising Sun looks red. All the cooler colors have been scattered away by air and Red light, bent into the umbra by atmospheric refraction, bathes the lunar surface in red. As you might have guessed, when we see a total lunar eclipse on Earth, lunar inhabitants see a total eclipse of the Sun by Earth. Source: Stellarium

When totality arrives, the entire lunar globe throbs with orange, copper or rusty red. These sumptuous hues originate from sunlight filtered and bent by Earth’s atmosphere into the umbral shadow. Atmospheric particles have removed all the cooler colors, leaving the reds and oranges from a billion sunrises and sunsets occurring around the planet’s circumference. Imagine for a moment standing on the Moon looking back. Above your head would hang the black disk of Earth, nearly four times the size of the Moon in our sky, ringed by a narrow corona of fiery light.

Color varies from one eclipse to the next depending on the amount of water, dust and volcanic ash suspended in Earth’s atmosphere. The December 30, 1982 eclipse was one of the darkest in decades due to a tremendous amount of volcanic dust from the eruption of the Mexican volcano El Chichon earlier that year.

The more particles and haze, the greater the light absorption and darker the Moon. That said, this eclipse should be fairly bright because the Moon does not tread deeply into Earth’s shadow. It’s in for a quick dip of totality and then resumes partial phases.

The Moon's color can vary from yellow-orange to dark, smoky brown during totality depending on the state of the atmosphere. You can also see lots of stars in the sky right up to the Moon's edge when it's in Earth's shadow. This photo from last April's eclipse. Credit: Bob King
The Moon’s color can vary from yellow-orange to dark, smoky brown during totality depending on the state of the atmosphere. You can also see lots of stars in the sky right up to the Moon’s edge when it’s in Earth’s shadow. This photo from last April’s eclipse. Spica is below the Moon and Mars to the right. Credit: Bob King

It’s northern edge, located close to the outer fringe of Earth’s umbra, should appear considerably brighter than the southern, which is closer to the center or darkest part of the umbra.

Earth's shadow exposed! During a lunar eclipse that occurs at dusk or dawn (like  the April 4th one and this one last October) we have the rare opportunity to see Earth's shadow on the distant Moon at the same time it's visible as a dark purple band cast on the upper atmosphere as seen here on October 8, 2015. Credit: Bob King
Earth’s shadow exposed! When a lunar eclipse occurs at dusk or dawn we have the rare opportunity to see Earth’s shadow on the distant Moon at the same time it’s visible as a dark purple band cast on the upper atmosphere as seen here on October 8, 2015. Credit: Bob King

Besides the pleasure of seeing the Moon change color, watch for the sky to darken as totality approaches. Eclipses begin with overwhelming moonlight and washed out, star-poor skies. As the Moon goes into hiding, stars return in a breathtaking way over a strangely eerie landscape. Don’t forget to turn around and admire the glorious summer Milky Way rising in the eastern sky.

Lunar eclipses remind us we live in a Solar System made of these beautiful, moving parts that never fail to inspire awe when we look up to notice.

In case you can’t watch the eclipse from your home due to weather or circumstance, our friends at the Virtual Telescope Project  and SLOOH will stream it online.

Get Ready for the April 15, 2014 Total Lunar Eclipse: Our Complete Guide

 April the 15th: In the United States, it’s a date dreaded by many, as the date to file taxes – or beg for an extension – looms large. But this year, Tax Day gives lovers of the sky something to look forward to, as the first of four total lunar eclipses for 2014 and 2015 occurs on the night of April 14th/15th favoring North and South America.

The circumstances for the April 15th, 2105 eclipse.
The circumstances for the April 15th, 2014 eclipse. The top chart shows the path of the Moon through the umbra, and the bottom chart shows the visibility region (light to shaded areas) Click here for a technical description. Credit:  Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

This marks the first total lunar eclipse visible from since December 10th 2011, which was visible at moonset from North America, and marks the start of the first of two eclipse seasons for 2014. Totality will last 1 hour, 17 minutes and 48 seconds, and will be visible in its entirety from the central Atlantic westward to eastern Australia. Unlike a total solar eclipse, which occurs along a narrow track, a total lunar eclipse can be viewed by the entire moonward facing hemisphere of the Earth.

Tracing the umbra: a mosaic of the December 2010 eclipse. Photos by author.
Tracing the umbra: a mosaic of the December 2010 eclipse. Photos by author.

The action begins at 4:37 Universal Time (UT)/12:37 AM EDT, when the Moon enters the western edge of the Earth’s shadow known as the penumbra. The Moon will be completely immersed in the penumbra by 5:58 UT/1:58 AM EDT, but don’t expect to see anything more than a faint tan shading that’s slightly darker on the Moon’s northeastern edge.

The real action begins moments later, as the Moon encounters the ragged edge of the umbra, or the inner core of the Earth’s shadow. When does the umbra first become apparent to you? Totality then begins at 7:06 UT/3:06 AM EDT and lasts until 8:24 UT/4:24 AM EDT, with mid-eclipse occurring just south of the center of the Earth’s shadow at 7:46 UT/3:46 AM EDT.

Finally, the eclipse ends as the Moon slides out of the penumbra at 10:37 UT/ 6:37 AM EDT.  Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps) has complied a fine video guide to the eclipse:

Field guide to the total lunar eclipse of April 14 – 15, 2014 from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

This eclipse is also notable for being part of a series of four lunar eclipses in 2014 & 2015, known as a “tetrad.” NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak notes that this series of eclipses is also notable in that all four are visible in part or in their entirety from the United States. We’re in a cycle of 9 sets of tetrads for the 21st century, which began with the first set in 2003. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 16th century for the last set of eclipse tetrads!

4AM EDT. Credit Starry Night Education software.
The position of the Moon within the Earth’s umbra on the morning of April 15th at 4AM EDT/8UT. Credit: Starry Night Education software.

For saros buffs, the April 15th eclipse is Member 56 of 75 of saros 122, which began on August 14th 1022 A.D. and runs out until a final penumbral eclipse of the series on October 29th, 2338. There are only two total eclipses left in this particular saros, one in 2032 and 2050. If you caught the total lunar eclipse of April 4th, 1996, you saw the last lunar eclipse in this same saros series.

Lunar eclipses have turned up at some curious junctures in history. For example, a lunar eclipse preceded the fall of Constantinople in 1453. A 2004 lunar eclipse also fell on the night that the Red Sox won the World Series after an 86 year losing streak, though of course, lunar eclipses kept on occurring during those losing years as well. Christopher Columbus was known to evoke an eclipse on occasion to get him and his crew out of a jam, and also attempted to use a lunar eclipse to gauge his position at sea using a method first described by Ptolemy while studying the lunar eclipse of September 20th, 331 B.C.

A handful of stars in the +8th to +12th magnitude range will be occulted by the eclipsed Moon as well. Brad Timerson of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) has put together a list, along with graze line prospects across the United States. The brightest star to be occulted by the eclipsed Moon is +5th magnitude 76 Virginis across western South America and Hawaii:

Credit: Occult 4.0
The occultation footprint of 76 Virginis during the April 15th lunar eclipse. Credit: Occult 4.0

Note that the bright star Spica will be only just over a degree from the eclipsed Moon, and Mars will also be nearby, just a week past its 2014 opposition. And to top it off, Saturn is just one constellation to the east in Libra!

During the partial phases of the eclipse, watch for the Moon to take on a “Pacman-like” appearance. The Earth’s umbra is just under three times the size of the Moon, and the Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos used this fact and a little geometry to gauge the distance to our natural satellite in the 3rd century B.C.

As totality approaches, expect the innermost rim of the Moon to take on a ruddy hue. This is the famous “combination of all the sunrises and sunsets” currently underway worldwide as light is bent through the Earth’s atmosphere into its shadow. It’s happening every night, and during the totality of a lunar eclipse is the only chance that we get to see it.

4AM Credit: Stellarium
Looking to the southwest at 4 AM EDT from latitude 30 degrees north on the morning of April 15th. Credit: Stellarium.

You don’t need anything more sophisticated than the naked eye or “Mark 1 eyeball” to enjoy a lunar eclipse, though it’s fun to watch through binoculars or a low-power telescope field of view. One interesting project that has been ongoing is to conduct timings for the moment when the umbra contacts various craters on the Moon. It’s a curious mystery that the Earth’s shadow varies by a small (1%) but perceptible amount from one eclipse to the next, and efforts by amateur observers may go a long way towards solving this riddle.

Said color of the fully eclipsed Moon can vary considerably as well: the Danjon scale describes the appearance of the eclipsed Moon, from bright and coppery red (Danjon 4) to so dark as to almost be invisible (Danjon 0). This is a product of the amount of dust, volcanic ash and aerosols currently aloft in the Earth’s atmosphere.  During the lunar eclipse of December 9th, 1992 the Moon nearly disappeared all together, due largely to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo the year prior.

A lunar eclipse also presents a chance to nab what’s known as a Selenelion. This occurs when the Sun and the totally eclipsed Moon appear above the local horizon at the same time. This is possible mainly because the Earth’s shadow is larger than the Moon, allowing it to linger a bit inside the umbra after sunrise or before sunset. Gaining some altitude is key to making this unusual observation.  During the April 15th eclipse, selenelion sightings favor the Mid-Atlantic and Greenland where totality is underway at sunrise and eastern Australia, where the reverse is true at sunset.

Want to have a go at measuring the brightness or magnitude of the eclipsed Moon? Here’s a bizarre but fun way to do it: take a pair of binoculars and compare the pinpoint Moon during totality to the magnitude of a known star, such as Antares or Spica.

Note that to do this, you’ll first need to gauge the magnitude extinction of your particular binoculars: NASA’s got a table for that, or you could field test the method days prior on Venus, currently shining at a brilliant -4.2 in the dawn. Hey, what’s a $1,000 pair of image-stabilized binocs for?

And of course, weather prospects are the big question mark for the event. Mid-April weather for North America is notoriously fickle. We’ll be watching the Clear Sky Chart and Skippy Sky for prospects days before the eclipse.

Photography during an eclipse is fun and easy to do, and you’ll have the waxing gibbous Moon available to practice on days prior to event. Keep in mind, you’ll need to slow down those shutter speeds as the Moon enters into totality, we’re talking going down from 1/60th of a second down to ¼” pretty quickly. In the event of a truly dark eclipse, the Moon may vanish in the view finder all together. Don’t be afraid to step exposures up to the 1 to 4 second range in this instance, as you’ve got over an hour to experiment.

Photo by author
Our “eclipse hunting rig…” the DSLR is piggy-backed to shoot stills on the main scope, which will shoot video. Note that the “f/34 field stop” will most likely be removed!  Photo by author

Thus far, only one webcast for the eclipse has surfaced, courtesy of the venerable Slooh. We’ll most likely be doing a follow up roundup of eclipse webcasts as they present themselves, as well as a look at prospects for things like a transit of the ISS in front of the eclipsed Moon and weather forecasts closer to show time.

And speaking of spacecraft, China’s Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover will have a fine view of a solar eclipse overhead from their Mare Imbrium vantage point, as will NASA’s LRO and LADEE orbiters overhead. In fact, NASA hinted last year that the April 15th eclipse might spell the end of LADEE entirely…

And thus marks the start of eclipse season one of two for 2014. Next up will be a curious non-central annular solar eclipse over Antarctica on April 29th, followed by another total lunar eclipse on October 8th, and a fourth and final partial solar eclipse of the year for North America of October 23rd.

Watch this space and follow us on Twitter as @Astroguyz, as we’ll be “all eclipses, all the time,” for April… no new taxes guaranteed!

Next up: Heard the one about the Blood Moon? Yeah, us too… join us as we debunk the latest lunacy surrounding the eclipse tetrad!

–      Got pics of the lunar eclipse? Send ‘em in to Universe Today, as a post-eclipse photo round up is a very real possibility!

 

In the Shadow of the Moon: Experience a Solar Eclipse From 37 Kilometers Up

The Moon’s shadow stretches over the Earth in this balloon-mounted camera view of the November 14 solar eclipse (Catalin Beldea, Marc Ulieriu, Daniel Toma et. al/Stiinta&Tehnica)

On November 14, 2012, tens of thousands of viewers across northeastern Australia got a great view of one of the most awe-inspiring sights in astronomy — a total solar eclipse. Of course many fantastic photos and videos were taken of the event, but one team of high-tech eclipse hunters from Romania went a step further — or should I say higher — and captured the event from a video camera mounted on a weather balloon soaring over 36,800 meters (120,000 feet) up!

Their video can be seen below:

During a solar eclipse the Moon passes in front of the disk of the Sun, casting its shadow upon the Earth. Any viewers within the darkest part of the shadow — the umbra — will experience a total eclipse, while those within the wider, more diffuse shadow area along the perimeter — the penumbra — will see a partial eclipse.

By launching a weather balloon carrying a wide-angle camera into the stratosphere above Queensland, eclipse hunter and amateur astronomer Catalin Beldea, ROSA research scientist Florin Mingireanu and others on the team were able to obtain their incredible video of the November 14 total eclipse from high enough up that the shadow of the Moon was visible striking Earth’s atmosphere. Totality only lasted a couple of minutes so good timing was essential… but they got the shot. Very impressive!

The mission was organized by teams from the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) and  Stiinta&Tehnica.com, with the video assembled by Daniel Toma and posted on YouTube by editor-in-chief Marc Ulieriu. Music by Shamil Elvenheim.