Late Night Treat for Sky Gazers

On Tuesday, the first total lunar eclipse in three years will be visible across the U.S.

April 14, 2014

On Tuesday, April 15, there will be a total lunar eclipse that will turn the moon a coppery red, NASA says.

Attention all sky gazers: get ready for a beautiful moon to grace the night sky. Tonight, the first total lunar eclipse in more than three years will be visible throughout North and South America. And, it’s in color.

According to NASA, the total lunar eclipse will take place on the night of April 14–15. Most of the United States will be able to view it, National Public Radio reports. It will last 78 minutes, beginning at 3:06 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and ending at 4:24 a.m. The U.S. Naval Observatory’s page has a handy link that allows you to input your city and figure out exactly when you’ll see the eclipse. People in the United States will not be able to witness a full lunar eclipse in its entirety again until 2019.

What You Need To Know

In a total lunar eclipse the Earth blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. The moon becomes dimly lit in an orange or red glow for about an hour, NASA says. Because of its color, it is often called a “Blood Moon.” That's from light around the edges of the Earth—essentially sunrises and sunsets — splashing on the lunar surface and faintly lighting up the moon, says Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

While a lunar eclipse last for a few hours, a total solar eclipse lasts for only a few minutes at any given place. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely safe to watch. So, stargazers do not need special glasses to protect their eyes.

Over the next 18 months, there will be three more blood moons: October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015. But scientists say blood moons are not common. Astronomers have a name for four complete lunar eclipses in a row that happen in six-month intervals—it's called a tetrad, NASA says. The tetrad has happened only three times in over 500 years. Before the dawn of the 20th century, there was a 300-year period when there were no tetrads at all.

"The most unique thing about the 2014–2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the U.S.A.," longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak said in a statement.

NASA’s Mission

There’s one downside to Tuesday’s lunar eclipse—it could damage a NASA spacecraft that’s been circling the moon since fall. The robotic orbiter is called Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer or LADEE (la-dee) for short. The science-collecting part of the mission was planned to finish in March but it went overtime. The orbiter was not designed to handle a lengthy eclipse. Scientists don't know if it will be able to withstand the cold temperature in the long eclipse. Even if it freezes up, LADEE will crash into the far side of the moon the following week as planned, after successfully completing its science mission. Scientists expect LADEE's final day to occur on or before April 21.

NASA has set up a live web chat starting at 1 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday to answer questions about the eclipse.

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