Finally, a good reason to stay up on Sunday night: a total lunar eclipse.
Moon watchers across the United States can experience a celestial wonder as Earth’s shadow covers the moon during prime viewing hours on the evening of May 15. Those on the East Coast can watch our natural satellite begin to turn an eerie copper-red color around 11:30 p.m. ET during one of the longest lunar eclipses in recent history.
“For pretty much all of North America, this is a great viewing opportunity,” said Madhulika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Where and when can I see the lunar eclipse?
The eclipse will be visible to much of the world, including the Americas, much of Europe and Africa, and parts of the Pacific. Joseph Rao, associate astronomer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York, estimates that about 2.7 billion people should be able to capture at least part of the eclipse.
Not long after sunset, the left side of the moon should start to appear dark. But the main event begins around 10:28 p.m. ET when the moon enters Earth’s central shadow, known as the umbra. At that point, it will start to look like something has taken a bite out of the moon.
When the moon is about three-quarters of the way into the umbra, it should start to glow a reddish hue, “like your electric stove just as the coils start to glow,” Rao said.
At 11:29 pm, the moon will be in the deepest portion of Earth’s shadow and the total eclipse will begin in earnest. The eclipse will peak shortly after midnight, at about 00:12, and will remain that coppery color until after 01:00. The moon will leave the umbra at 01:56, regaining its pearly hue as the work week begins.
Viewers farther west won’t have to struggle to stay up this late, with the most impressive views of the red moon beginning around 8:29 p.m. Pacific Time, peaking just before 9:12 p.m. . 9:54 p.m. Observers in Hawaii will be able to see the moon rise looking like a reddish ball, Rao said, while those in Europe and Africa will see the opposite effect, seeing the moon drop below the horizon during the total eclipse.
Peculiarities of celestial mechanics mean that totality, when the Moon is blood red and in deepest shadow, lasts longer than average, about 1 hour and 25 minutes, giving sky watchers a great deal of time. opportunity to savor the event. This makes it the longest total lunar eclipse visible across much of the United States since August 1989, Rao said.
What do I need to see the eclipse?
No fancy equipment is needed to view the otherworldly spectacle. If the weather is clear, just look up and spot the moon at night. Darker skies are better at capturing the subtleties of the moon’s color change, but even those in cities will have good views of the eclipse.
“Because it’s happening at such a comfortable time, I would suggest trying to watch it from start to finish,” said Dr. Guhathakurta.
Binoculars or a garden telescope will help bring out the red color, he added. Viewers with access to such instruments should be able to see the Earth’s shadow pass over the Moon’s craters, valleys, and mountains, and watch those features take on that scarlet hue.
NASA’s Goddard Center houses maps and visualizations of both the moon during the eclipse and where the eclipse will be visible on Earth, so Dr. Guhathakurta suggested that those interested can familiarize themselves with the details of the event. beforehand and learn more about lunar topography.
How does a lunar eclipse work again?
Lunar eclipses occur when our planet comes between its two main celestial partners, the sun and the moon. Moonglow is actually reflected sunlight, so the lunar surface gradually darkens as the moon falls into Earth’s elongated shadow.
“When the moon hides in Earth’s shadow, it should darken and disappear,” Rao said. “Instead, it changes this creepy copper or reddish color.”
That’s because Earth’s atmosphere is reflecting sunlight around the edges of our planet. Anything other than the reddest, longest wavelengths is filtered out, and the combined brightness of all the world’s sunrises and sunsets is projected onto the gray moon.