April 15 — a date that’s dreaded by many Americans for tax purposes — instead has a special appeal for stargazers this year. A total lunar eclipse will turn the moon a reddish hue, and should be visible across the country.
Happening in the early morning hours on Tuesday — peaking between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. EDT — the cosmic color change will be perfectly placed for most viewers in North and South America, astronomer Fred Espenak told CBS News in an email.
According to NASA, it will begin as a partial eclipse at 1:58 a.m. EDT, with the total eclipse lasting from 3:07 a.m. to 4:25 a.m. EDT.
Unlike a solar eclipse, experts say a lunar eclipse is safe to watch with the naked eye. You won’t need a telescope or even binoculars to witness the brightly colored “Blood Moon.”
This eclipse will also mark the beginning of a tetrad, a series of four total lunar eclipses in a row. The next three total eclipses will be occurring on Oct. 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and the final occurring on Sept. 28, 2015.
The start of Tuesday’s lunar eclipse will mark the second of nine tetrads this century, according to Espenak, the last tetrad occurring in 2003 and the next occurring in 2032. There were five tetrads in the 20th century.
“Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first…noticed that tetrads were relatively plentiful during one 300-year interval, while none occurred during the next 300 years,” Espenak explained to CBS News. “For example, there are no tetrads from 1582 to 1908, but 17 tetrads occur during the following 2 and 1/2 centuries from 1909 to 2156. The [approximate] 565-year period of the tetrad ‘seasons’ is tied to the slowly decreasing eccentricity of Earth’s orbit.”
As the Earth positions itself between the sun and the moon, a reddish hue will surround the moon due to the indirect sunlight that manages to reach and illuminate it. Sunlight first passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, filtering out most of the blue colored light, resulting this reddish color. Earth’s atmosphere can also refract some of the light, causing a small fraction to reach and illuminate the moon, Espenak explains on his website.
CBS affiliates in Boston and New York, as well as parts of Florida and California are predicting cloudy conditions around the times the lunar eclipse is set to occur, which may cause some sky gazers to miss the spectacular moment.
Most observers in both North and South America will be able to watch the entire event, according to Espenak. But viewers in the eastern half of South America and northwestern Africa will miss some stages of the eclipse, because they occur after moonset. Observers in Japan and Australia will miss the earlier stages of the eclipse, since it begins before moonrise. New Zealanders will see the entire eclipse, except in the southwest where the eclipse is already in progress at moonrise.
No part of the eclipse will be visible from Europe, most of Africa, the Middle East or most of Asia, notes Espenak.
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