On the night of April 14-15, a total eclipse of the Moon will be visible from beginning to end throughout North America; the first eclipse to do so since December 2010. The Moon will begin to enter the dark umbral shadow of the Earth late on Monday evening, April 14 for viewers in the western half of the United States and Canada, but on Tuesday morning, April 15 for those in the Midwest and on the Atlantic seaboard.
This eclipse will also be available to those living in South America and westernmost Africa, although moonset will intervene at some stage. On the opposite side of the globe, eastern Asia, including much of Indonesia, Australia and western New Zealand will have the eclipse already in progress as the Moon rises on the evening of April 15.
There is nothing complicated about how to view this celestial spectacle. Unlike an eclipse of the Sun, which necessitates special viewing precautions in order to avoid eye damage, an eclipse of the Moon is perfectly safe to watch. All you’ll need to watch are your eyes, but binoculars or a telescope will give a much nicer view.
The eclipse will actually begin when the Moon enters the faint outer portion, or penumbra of the Earth’s shadow. The penumbra, however, is all but invisible to the eye until the Moon becomes deeply immersed in it. Sharp-eyed viewers may get their first glimpse of the penumbra as a delicate shading on the left part of the Moon’s disk about 20 minutes before the start of the partial eclipse (when the round edge of the central shadow or umbra, first touches the Moon’s left edge).
The Moon will enter Earth’s much darker umbral shadow at 1:54 a.m. on April 15th in the Atlantic Time Zone, 12:54 a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone, 11:54 p.m. in the Mississippi Valley on the calendar date of April 14th, 10:54 p.m. in the Rockies and 9:54 p.m. on the Pacific coast. Sixty-eight minutes later the Moon is entirely within the shadow, and will be in total eclipse for 78 minutes until it begins to emerge; the first sliver of the Moon reappearing on its southeastern (lower left) limb. The vaguer shading of the penumbra can continue to be readily detected for perhaps another 20 minutes or so after the end of umbral eclipse (5:33 a.m. EDT/2:33 a.m. PDT).
At the moment of mid-totality (3:46 a.m. EDT/12:46 a.m. PDT), the Moon will stand directly overhead from a point in the south Pacific Ocean roughly 1,900 miles to the southwest of the Galapagos Islands.
Although it will become completely immersed in the Earth’s shadow, the Moon will not be blacked out. Rather, it will likely be colored a deep copper shade thanks to sunlight striking the day side of the Earth is refracted, or bent through our atmosphere. The action takes the longer wavelengths of sunlight, which are seen as red, and bends them around the Earth, filling the Earth’s umbra with a faint red light that is reflected back by the Moon.
There will also be a bonus in that during totality the bright blue star Spica will be situated below and to the right of the Moon which should provide a stunning color contrast. Old-timers like me will recall a very similar configuration that occurred between Spica and the totally eclipsed Moon on Good Friday in 1968 (April 12).
For North America, another total lunar eclipse will be available on October 8, 2014 although the Moon will set during totality as seen from the eastern part of the country.
A CELESTIAL BONUS!
Just hours before the Moon begins its plunge into the shadow of the Earth, one of our planetary neighbors passes by to say hello. The past several years have been lean ones for observers of Mars. Those who witnessed its spectacular approach to within 34.64 million miles of Earth in 2003 then had to settle for increasingly poorer views of the red planet as the Earth-Mars orbital geometry became more unfavorable.
Their wait is ending, however, for on April 14 at 8:53 a.m. EDT Mars will make its closest approach since January 2008, coming to within 57.4 million miles. You’ll see Mars appearing as a brilliant yellow-orange “star” shining with a steady, sedate glow well to the right and above the soon-to-be eclipsed Full Moon that night.
A six-inch telescope with an eyepiece magnifying 118-power will show Mars’ rust-hued disk appearing as large as the full moon appears with the unaided eye and yielding detail only grudgingly. Even so, observers may be able to spot new features in the light and dark markings that cover the planet’s surface.