TL;DR – If you have clear skies in the Western Hemisphere tonight, look up in the early hours of the morning! Tonight is the first of four lunar eclipses to occur in the next two years. Also, the world isn’t going to end.
Okay, for those of you who want more details, listen up. There are several ways to enjoy the lunar eclipse tonight, even if you are over the Eastern Hemisphere or clouded out.
The lunar eclipse is a lovely, if long, astronomical event in which the Earth shadow blocks the sunlight that would otherwise be reflecting off the Moon. This can only occur during a full Moon and when the geometry is juuuust right. Unlike a solar eclipse, it is visible from the entire hemisphere of the Earth that is facing the Moon (or, having nighttime) when the eclipse occurs. That means that people all over North and South America will be able to view the spectacle together. And the best part… you don’t need any special observing equipment!
You’ll need clear skies, however, and to be up at a strange time of night, for some. Find the actual times for your location at timeanddate.com, my favorite place for de-tangling time zones. The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the Eastern US, but those of us in the Midwest, Southwest, and beyond should have clear enough skies to get a view. Of course, there will be several webcasts of the event, such as this one by the Virtual Telescope Project in conjunction with Global Astronomy Month, and many more listed in David Dickinson’s Universe Today article.
The Moon is not completely dark during an eclipse, as noted by stunning photographs available from previous eclipses. The Moon actually appears red, and the reason is fascinating. Although the Earth blocks direct sunlight from hitting the Moon, some of the light is refracted around the edge of the Earth by the thin layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. This reddened light from ALL the sunsets and all the sunrises happening simultaneously on Earth is then reflected from the Moon’s surface back to us. Very. Cool. If you are an experiences eclipse watcher, you might want to try your hand at photographing this eclipse with some tips.
Of course, we can’t have a significant astronomical event without someone somewhere predicting doom and gloom, right? As the red Moon has been nicknamed the “Blood Moon,” several people are attaching spiritual significance to it, in particular pointing to the upcoming tetrad of eclipses as being some harbinger of doom. Nancy Alima Ali tells us not to worry, however, as eclipses have been studied for centuries, though the fear of darkness is strong in our psyche.
UPDATE: Oh gosh, I just HAD to add this video… HT @aschwortz!