Weather permitting, we’ll be able to see a rare treat in the skies early Tuesday morning — a Total Lunar Eclipse.
In this astronomical set up, the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon, with the Earth casting a shadow deep into space. The moon will pass into that shadow and will appear to slowly disappear before culminating with a reddish glow. It will happen early in the morning, but it would be worth waking early for a look.
Here’s the timeline…
1:20am: The moon begins to fall into the outer part of the shadow called the penumbra. It’ll take awhile before you’ll be able to notice the moon moving through this part of the shadow. You may notice the moon starting to look a little dimmer.
1:58am: The partial eclipse begins. This is when the moon begins to move into the darker part of the shadow — the umbra. A reddish/blackish shadow will move across the moon. What will be interesting to watch is how dark the sky becomes. Stars which you didn’t see earlier in the night will begin to appear as a “second night” develops.
3:07am: Total eclipse begins. This is when the moon’s disk is completely within the umbra. If you were standing on the moon, the sun would be completely blacked out by the Earth. From the Earth’s perspective, the moon will have a reddish-orange glow.
3:46am: Mid-eclipse. The moon is in the middle of the umbra…the darkest part of the shadow. The moon will likely continue to take on a reddish-orange look but could be greyish, as well.
4:25am: The total eclipse ends as the moon is completely out of the umbra and partial eclipse begins again.
5:33am: Partial eclipse ends as the moon passes out of the penumbra shadow.
Courtesy: Bob Horton, Brown University
What causes the reddish look to the moon?
It’s the same effect that causes the reddish sunrises and sunsets — refraction, which is the bending of light by the Earth’s atmosphere. Other factors can influence the color including cloud cover, pollutants and volcanic ash. A clear sky would produce a bright eclipse, while clouds, pollutants and ash would create a darker red or almost a black-look to the moon.
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Of course this is very weather dependent. There will be a cold front working through the Eastern part of the United States Monday night and early Tuesday morning. This will bring lots of clouds to Southern New England. However, it is possible that there could be some breaks in the clouds early Tuesday morning. It’s worth waking up to check on the sky, because the some clouds could create a neat, spooky-look to the blood-red moon. If you miss it, don’t worry, there’s another lunar eclipse not too far away…on October 8th of this year.
-Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo