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For the second time this year, North Americans will have an opportunity to see a total eclipse of the Moon. But this one favors night owls and early-risers, because the full Moon passes through the umbra — the dark inner part of Earth's shadow — well after midnight on the morning of October 8th for the four main U.S. time zones. In many areas the eclipse happens as dawn is brightening.
The timetable below tells what to expect and when. The eclipse will also be visible from western South America and much of the Pacific. Viewers in Australia and eastern Asia get to view this event on the evening of October 8th.
|Total Eclipse of the Moon, October 8, 2014
|Penumbra first visible?
|Partial eclipse begins
|Total eclipse begins
|Total eclipse ends
|Partial eclipse ends
|Penumbra last visible?
What to Look For
A total lunar eclipse has five stages, with different things to watch at each:
Penumbral eclipse: Shading starts to occur when the Moon's leading edge moves into Earth's penumbra, the pale outer fringe of Earth's shadow. But initially the effect is weak — you won't start to see a dusky shading on the Moon's left-facing side (celestial east) until the Moon intrudes about halfway across the penumbra. As the Moon glides deeper in, the shading becomes much more obvious.
Partial eclipse: More dramatic is the Moon's entrance into the umbra, where no direct sunlight reaches the lunar surface. Few sights in astronomy are more eerie and impressive than watching this red-black shadow creeping, minute by minute, across the bright lunar landscape, slowly engulfing one marking after another. As more of the Moon slides into the umbra, more stars appear in what had been a full-Moon-washed sky. An hour or so into partial eclipse, only a final bright sliver remains outside the umbra, and the rest of the Moon is already showing an eerie reddish glow.
Total eclipse: From the Moon's perspective, the Sun remains completely hidden behind Earth for 59 minutes. From Earth's perspective, the lunar disk isn't completely blacked out but instead remains dimly lit by a deep orange or red glow. That's because Earth's atmosphere scatters and refracts (bends) sunlight that grazes the rim of our globe, and some of this light continues on toward the Moon. For an astronaut standing on the Moon during a total lunar eclipse, the situation would be obvious. The edge of the Earth would shine brilliant orange-red with the light of all the world's sunrises and sunsets happening at the time, and this light would be bright enough to cast a dim red glow on the lunar landscape at the astronaut's feet.
During this particular eclipse, the Moon crosses somewhat north of the umbra's center. So expect the northern half of the lunar disk, the side nearest the umbra's outer edge, to look somewhat brighter and the southern half somewhat darker.
Along most of the East Coast the Moon will sink low in the west, with dawn brightening, while the total eclipse is in progress. The brightening sky will make it increasingly difficult to spot the dim lunar disk. The Moon will set right around the time of sunrise.
Partial eclipse returns: Totality ends once the Moon's leading limb peeks back into direct sunlight, and after that events unfold in reverse order. If you're using binoculars or a small telescope to view the eclipse, watch as lunar features slide back into the direct sunlight. For most North American locations in the Central time zone, the Moon will set and the Sun will rise during this second partial phase of the eclipse.
Penumbral eclipse fades away: When all of the Moon has escaped the umbra, only the last, penumbral shading is left. This final duskiness gradually fades away, leaving the full Moon shining as bright as ever — for regions where it hasn't yet set.
Second in a Series
This is the second of four total lunar eclipses occurring in 2014–15 about six months apart. The third occurs next year on April 4th, and the final one on the night of September 27–28, 2015. Such eclipse tetrads are uncommon — the last one happened a decade ago, but the next won't begin until 2032.
In the following two weeks the Moon will travel halfway around its orbit, and on October 23rd it will line up directly between the Sun on Earth. On that day virtually everyone in North America will experience a partial solar eclipse.
For more skywatching information and other astronomy news, visit SkyandTelescope.com or pick up Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy since 1941.
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