10/22/2014

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First of 4 'Blood Moon' lunar eclipses set for Monday night

First of 4 'Blood Moon' lunar eclipses set for Monday night
FILE -- A lunar eclipse shines over the Space Needle in Seattle on Feb. 20, 2008 (Photo courtesy: Clane Gessel)
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Our sunrises and sunsets are legendary around here, but how would you like to see all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth -- at the same time! And it doesn't even require a trip to outer space.

Instead, the moon is going to essentially turn into an astronomical version of a projection screen as we get the first of four consecutive lunar eclipses over the next two years.

Even though the moon will be in the Earth's shadow, it should appear a bit colorful, some shade of red or orange. That's from light around the edges of the Earth - essentially all the sunrises and sunsets at the moment - splashing on the lunar surface and faintly lighting up the moon, said Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

According to space.com, the color of the moon could range from a light coppery-red to nearly black, depedning on atmospheric conditions on Earth at the time. Cloudier weather along the sunrise and sunset zones during the eclipse and the moon will drift closer to black.

Lucky for us for this first event, we're in prime geographical position here along the West Coast, getting to see the show from start to finish. The first inkling of the eclipse will begin at 10:58 p.m. PDT Monday night and then the moon will go into full eclipse at 12:06 a.m., staying eclipsed all the way until 1:24 a.m., then starting to brighten up until the eclipse ends at 2:33 a.m. Tuesday.

Why called a 'blood moon'?

According to EarthSky.org, Blood Moon used to be an alternate name of the Hunter's Moon, which was the full moon after the Harvest Moon, which is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox (got all that?). Now, all of a sudden it's being applied to this current streak of four lunar eclipses, and it's a mystery why.

The site wasn't sure if it's because the moon turns reddish in color -- which it sort of does during all lunar eclipses; this isn't something unique to this particular eclipse -- or if it's some new moniker to go with the four in a row. (Or, could it be related to a recent book and a purported Biblical prophecy?) 

But it appears the name has stuck and I guess Blood Moon will go the way of "Blue Moon" which these days also has a different definition (2nd full moon in a month or fourth in a three-month period) than its original intention.

(Ironically, the second 'blood' moon lunar eclipse in this series will be in October, when it will be the Hunter's Moon -- or the original definition of a "Blood Moon".)

Four lunar eclipses in a row -- is that a record?

First, I should point out it's not 4 consecutive months with an eclipse, but four lunar eclipses six lunar cycles apart that aren't broken up by a partial lunar eclipse in between.

These group of four, called a "tetrad," happen roughly once every 10-18 years. The last one was in 2003-04 (in the days before Twitter and fancy #BloodMoon hashtags so it largely went unnoticed?) and after this current group that spans this year and next, the 3rd tetrad of the 21st Century will be in 2032-33. There will be eight tetrads this century alone.

How's the weather looking?

Iffy. There will be clouds and, eventually, rain moving in during the post-midnight hours Monday. Best chance is to catch it at the earliest part of the show, but even then the clouds may have already won the race.

If I miss it, when can I see them again?

The second lunar eclipse of the tetrad is set for the early morning of Oct. 8, starting at 2:14 a.m., peaking from 3:25 to 4:24 a.m., and ending at 5:34 a.m. The West Coast is again in a good spot to see it, weather permitting. You just have to stay up later (or get up earlier.)

In 2015, the dates are April 4 and Sept. 28. For the April 4 one, the West Coast will get to see just about the whole show but the moon will set toward the very end. For Sept. 28, 2015, the moon will rise already eclipsed so we'll get the second half of the show.

For More Information:

Earthsky.org: What is a "Blood Moon"?
Space.com: Four Blood Moons: Total Lunar Eclipse Series Not a Sign of Apocalypse
Space.com: Moon Observing Tips

 

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