In two years, a full solar eclipse will travel from Texas to Maine
This is the first of two total lunar eclipses to be seen from the United States this year. The next is set for the night of Nov. 7, and will favor parts of northwestern North America that are missing from Sunday night’s show.
What is a total lunar eclipse?
Eclipses of all forms occur when one object blocks another. In the case of a total lunar eclipse, the Earth mediates between the sun and the moon. You can expect that to prevent sunlight from reaching the moon, making it disappear, but that’s not happening. Instead, some sunlight flies around the Earth through our atmosphere and is scattered toward the moon.
For this to happen, the sun, Earth and moon must be in one line. That only happens on the full moon.
Total solar eclipses, on the other hand, occur on new moons, when the moon slides between the Earth and the sun. It turns off sunlight from reaching a narrow corridor of the Earth, which changes day to night. Solar eclipses also allow the appearance of the sun’s white crown, or atmosphere, which is usually overshadowed by blazing sunlight.
Solar and lunar eclipses are paired approximately two weeks apart; the most recent partial solar eclipse, on April 30, is visible from South America.
The total lunar eclipse will begin as an inconspicuous “penumbral” lunar eclipse – a subtle darkening that is almost imperceptible to the untrained observer. That’s when the widest, most scattered portion of the Earth’s shadows will begin to sweep over the moon from the bottom left to the top right.
The partial eclipse phase will continue, when the edge of the umbra, or darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, first contacts the moon. You can see a veil of darkness crossing the moon, its edge is a subtle curve representing the shape of the Earth. The shadow curve will be more subtle than the moon, because the Earth is larger.
When it is completely swallowed up by the shadow, the moon will turn red. That’s because the only light that reaches the moon is the one that flows into the Earth’s atmosphere. Shorter wavelengths/higher frequencies of light are scattered, leaving only the longer wavelengths, colored red, which are able to penetrate the length of the atmosphere at low angles of range. This is the same premise that blushes sunrise and sunset. Therefore, you see the light of simultaneous sunrise and sunset projected on the moon.
The maximum eclipse comes when the moon is most firmly buried within the shadow of the Earth, plunging into nothing but frightening red light. The color of a lunar eclipse actually varies depending on how polluted the environment is; Astronomers rate tonal hues on the Danjon Scale, where zero corresponds to an almost invisible eclipse and four represents a bronze rust. Volcanic eruptions and the presence of aerosols are known to reduce the vitality of lunar eclipses.
All times given are in Eastern time:
Start penumbral eclipse: 9:32:05 pm eastern time
Start partial eclipse: 10:27:52 pm East time
Start total: 11:29:03 pm East time
Maximum eclipse: 12:11:28 of eastern time
End of total: 12:53:55 am eastern time
End partial eclipse: 1:55:07 am eastern time
End penumbral eclipse: 2:50:49 am eastern time
Note: For some on the West Coast, the moon will not rise until the fullness has taken place. Moonrise in San Francisco, for example, is set at 8:06 pm Pacific time, just 23 minutes before the total begins.
How special are total lunar eclipses?
Lunar eclipses are not nearly as special as total solar eclipses. Lunar eclipses can be seen from the entire night side of the Earth, because the moon is visible everywhere. Most places get one or two total lunar eclipses per year.
Total solar eclipses, on the other hand, are seen from a particular location only once every 375 years on average. The path across can be nearly a mile wide, and the experience is surreal. The next to be seen in the United States is on Monday, April 8, 2024.
Cloud patches will spread over the Eastern Seaboard, Intermountain West, Sierra Nevada and Pacific Northwest. The center of the country will see large expanses of clear skies that are desirable for viewing.
A finer prediction will be made in the next few days.
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