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Monday, April 14, 2014

Watch Live Tonight as a Total Lunar Eclipse Turns the Moon Blood Red from 12.50 am EST


 Tonight the Earth, moon, and sun will align just right to put on a celestial show known as a total lunar eclipse. Though you can just look up in the sky to catch the event, we’ve also got some spectacular live feeds of the eclipse for those trapped inside by cold, cloud cover, or agoraphobia. The first video (above) comes courtesy of the Slooh Space Camera consortium, which will have a double-feature night starting with views of Mars, making its closest approach to Earth tonight, during a show at 7:00 p.m. PT/10:00 p.m. ET. This will transition to views from telescopes trained on the moon and expert commentary beginning at 11:00 p.m. PT/2:00 a.m. ET. The eclipse itself will require some patience and late-night stamina from sky watchers, only beginning at 10:58 p.m. PT/1:58 a.m. ET. The moon will fully enter Earth’s shadow and get tinged red starting a little after midnight PT/3:00 a.m. ET, returning to its normal color about an hour and a half later. Lunar eclipses occur when the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. This actually happens about once every month but only occasionally does the moon enter the shadow cast by our planet. That’s because the moon’s orbit is tilted slightly so most months our natural satellite simply passes over or under our planetary shadow. But when the alignment is just right, the Earth perfectly blocks the sun’s light and the moon goes almost completely dark. Because some sunlight still creeps in around the edges of the Earth, the moon doesn’t get totally obscured. Our atmosphere filters this faint bit of light, removing almost all except the longest wavelengths and casting a red light on the moon, which gets reflected back at us. The color can actually vary from bright copper to dark brown based on the amount of particles (usually from a major volcanic eruption) in our atmosphere. Tonight’s eclipse is notable for a few reasons. Most eclipses are partial ones, where only a section of the moon enters the Earth’s shadow. This eclipse is not only a total lunar eclipse but the first of four total lunar eclipses, spaced approximately six months apart, that will be happening over the next two years. Such an event, known as a tetrad, happens on occasion simply because of the quirks of orbital mechanics, but they are fairly rare. The last lunar eclipse tetrad occurred in 2003-04 and the next group won’t come until 2032-33. The total lunar eclipse this evening also happens to be occurring on just the same night as the closest approach of Earth and Mars, when the Red Planet grows to become very bright in our sky. And because viewers in North America are particularly well suited to seeing tonight’s eclipse, it has drawn a great deal of interest in the United States. In addition to Slooh’s show, there will be a couple other ways to get some awesome total lunar eclipse views on the internet. The Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona will provide updating images of the event on their page starting at 9:50 p.m. PT/12:50 a.m. ET. The Virtual Telescope Project will be doing the same beginning at 11:30 p.m. PT/2:30 a.m. ET. And NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center will have live feeds and expert commentary at the video below, starting at 10:00 p.m. PT/1:00 a.m. ET

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