Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight! Plus Mars’ Closest Approach!

On the night of April 14-15, the planet Mars – closest in 6 years – will be near the eclipsed moon. The star Spica will also be nearby. Illustration via Classical Astronomy.

On the night of April 14-15, the planet Mars – closest in 6 years – will be near the eclipsed moon. The star Spica will also be nearby. Illustration via Classical Astronomy.

April 15th is a date dreaded by many, as the deadline to file taxes (or beg for an extension) looms large, but this year Tax Day gives skywatchers something to anticipate: the first in a tetrad of lunar eclipses for 2014 and 2015. A lunar eclipse occurs when a full moon passes into the Earth’s inner shadow, or umbra, and our planet is interposed between the sun and the moon. According to Earthsky.org, a tetrad consists of four successive lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months, or six full moons.

Schematic showing the geometry of a lunar eclipse (not to scale). Drawing by Shutterstock/fluidworkshop

Schematic showing the geometry of a lunar eclipse (not to scale). Drawing by Shutterstock/fluidworkshop

The next three eclipses in this tetrad will occur on October 8th, 2014, April 4th, 2015, and September 28th, 2015. To give an idea of just how rare tetrad cycles are, the following table charts total eclipses vs. tetrads across the centuries:

Century Number of Total Lunar Eclipses Number of Tetrads Century Number of Total Lunar Eclipses Number of Tetrads
11th

62

0

21st

85

8

12th

59

0

22nd

69

4

13th

60

0

23rd

61

0

14th

77

6

24th

60

0

15th

83

4

25th

69

4

16th

77

6

26th

87

8

17th

61

0

27th

79

7

18th

60

0

28th

64

0

19th

62

0

29th

57

0

20th

81

5

30th

63

1

Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/110868/the-science-behind-the-blood-moon-tetrad-and-why-lunar-eclipses-dont-mean-the-end-of-the-world/#ixzz2ytI2e02M

The coming red moon, popularly called a “blood moon,” is a perfectly natural occurrence caused by light dispersion. Even when the Earth has moved directly between the moon and the sun, the scattered light from all the sunrises and sunsets around the rim of our globe still reach the moon’s surface, giving it a reddish brown or copper tinge (Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight in such a way that only the longest wavelengths of light reach the moon). If you were standing on the surface of the moon during a total lunar eclipse, the Earth would appear as a black disk surrounded by a brilliant orange ring.

Tonight’s eclipse will be mainly visible from North America. However, a huge cold front is expected to cause clouds and rain for nearly the entire eastern USA, where most of the North American population resides, thereby rendering the eclipse invisible to most potential observers. For more information on viewing conditions in your area, consult the Weather Channel’s Total Lunar Eclipse Forecast.

Slooh, the Virtual Telescope Project, and NASA will all be holding live webcasts covering the lunar eclipse festivities beginning at 2:00 a.m.,  2:30 a.m., and 2:00 a.m. EDT, respectively. Additionally, the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA will be open from 1 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. EDT to catch all the eclipsing action. The museum’s observatory will be available for moon viewing, along with smaller telescopes on the museum grounds. Visitors can learn more about eclipses inside the Planetarium.

As a double treat, Mars is expected to appear bigger and brighter than usual tonight, as the planet makes its closest approach in six years, just ahead of the total lunar eclipse, when the Red Planet comes within 57.4 million miles of our planet. However, despite the improvement, this distance is still below average in terms of favorability. According to Weather.com, a 6-inch telescope with an eyepiece of 118 magnifying power will show Mars’ rust-hued disk as large as the full moon appears with the unaided eye and will reveal very little detail. Adam Block of the University of Arizona’s Mount Lemmon SkyCenter recommends using at least an 8-inch telescope and waiting until the planet is higher in the sky for optimal viewing. If you don’t own a telescope, fear not! The Slooh community telescope will host a live webcast on the closest approach of Mars since 2008. Happy skygazing, everyone!

Mars Spica Moon

This illustration shows where Mars is in relation to the moon, the bright star Spica and the constellations Virgo, Ursa Major and Leo. (Photo: NASA)

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2 thoughts on “Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight! Plus Mars’ Closest Approach!

  1. I love learning about space! I look forward to your next post and my journey through all the ones you have published! Thank you for taking the time to share all your knowledge but most importantly your perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

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