Moon-Day! Tonight’s the Night for a ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse and Mars

Monday night’s marvels are worth staying up late for: Not only will Mars be bigger and brighter than it’s been for more than six years, but you’ll also be able to see the first total lunar eclipse in more than two years.

Total lunar eclipses occur when Earth is positioned precisely between the sun and the full moon. Because of the tilt of the moon’s orbit, total eclipses don’t happen all that often — about twice in the course of three years, on average. When they do, it can be a spectacular sight: The darkened moon takes on a reddish glow because of the sunlight refracted by Earth’s atmosphere.

The last total lunar eclipse took place in December 2011, but we’re coming up on a series of four such events, known as a tetrad, which is dictated by a recurrence of the right orbital parameters. After Monday night’s eclipse, the other three are due on Oct. 8, and then next year on April 4 and Sept. 28.

“The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA,” eclipse expert Fred Espenak said in a NASA preview.

Moon-Day isn’t Doomsday

Some doomsayers are selling the “Blood Moon” tetrad as an evil omen, but that’s bogus. The only thing that’s scary about this eclipse is what it might do to your sleep schedule: The moon won’t start crossing into Earth’s shadow until 12:53 a.m. ET Tuesday, and the total phase of the eclipse lasts from 3:06 to 4:24 a.m. ET. Espenak lays out the details on NASA’s eclipse-centric Web site.

NASA is planning an “Up All Night” chat that starts at 1 a.m. ET Tuesday and continues until the eclipse is completely finished, around 5 a.m. ET. NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams and astrophysicist Alphonse Sterling will be available to answer your questions. A live Ustream view of the lunar eclipse, provided by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, will accompany the commentary.

You can also tune in eclipse coverage on NASA TV starting at 1 a.m., and share your eclipse pics via NASA’s Flickr group.

The Slooh virtual observatory is planning its own webcast at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday, featuring live feeds from various locations and commentary from host Paul Cox and astronomer Bob Berman. Guests include Timothy Ferris, author of “Seeing in the Dark”; and Duncan Copp, producer of the award-winning film “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Tune in the show via Slooh.comYouTube or the Slooh iPad app, and ask questions using the hashtag #slooh.

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