The first eclipse of 2014 is a good one for observers throughout the Western Hemisphere and especially for the Americas.
On Tuesday, April 15, there will be a total lunar eclipse that will turn the moon a coppery red, according to NASA. It’s called a blood moon, and it’s one of four total eclipses that will take place in North America within the next 18 months. Within a year and a half, North America will be able to see a blood moon a total of four times. The moon takes on this color during the eclipse as it passes through the Earth’s shadow, which is the color of a desert sunset. The four blood moons will occur in roughly six-month intervals on the following dates: April 15, 2014; October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.
During totality, the spring constellations are well placed for viewing so a number of bright stars can be used for magnitude comparisons. The entire event is visible from both North and South America. Observers in the western Pacific miss the first half of the eclipse because it occurs before moonrise. Likewise most of Europe and Africa experience moonset just as the eclipse begins. None of the eclipse is visible from north/east Europe, eastern Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia.
Lunar eclipses can be penumbral, partial or umbral but don’t occur with any regular schedule like many other astronomical events. Getting four umbral eclipses in a row is rare and is known as a tetrad. We are lucky in the U.S. that this 2014-2015 tetrad will be visible for all or parts of the country.
In the 21st century, there will be many tetrads, but look back a few centuries, and you’ll find the opposite phenomenon. We had gone through a 300-year period when there were none. That means that Sir Isaac Newton, Mozart, George Washington, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln nor their contemporaries ever had a chance to see one.
So, get out there and take a look. You’ll need to be up at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday to see the moon starts to enter the Earth’s shadow. The “”blood moon” coppery red should occur about an hour later and stay that way for over an hour.
This particular blood moon comes right at the Jewish festival of Passover, which commemorates the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. According to the Bible, God cast 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, the final plague being the death of the firstborn. Not that this eclipse has anything to do with the Biblical story, but it is an interesting coincidence that the Israelites painted lamb’s blood on their doorways so that this plague would pass over their homes.
The times of the major eclipse phases:
Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 04:53:37 UT
Partial Eclipse Begins: 05:58:19 UT
Total Eclipse Begins: 07:06:47 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 07:45:40 UT
Total Eclipse Ends: 08:24:35 UT
Partial Eclipse Ends: 09:33:04 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 10:37:37 UT