Stories tagged eclipse


Lunar eclipse: Tonight's will be the first in a tetrad of four total lunar eclipses over the next year-and-a-half.
Lunar eclipse: Tonight's will be the first in a tetrad of four total lunar eclipses over the next year-and-a-half.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The first of 4 consecutive total lunar eclipses occurs late tonight (and early Tuesday morning) and will be visible to practically all of the United States (local weather permitting). The astronomical event begins around 5:58 UT, and should last about 4 and a half hours from start to finish.

A total lunar eclipse takes place when the moon passes through the Earth's umbra, the innermost darkest shadow created by the Earth as it (from the Moon's perspective) blocks out the Sun. Refraction caused by the Earth's atmosphere allows for some of the Sun's light to bend around the Earth and bathe the Moon in an amber glow, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon, especially by some fundamental religious groups who see it as an omen of the biblical End Times. There are two other kinds of lunar eclipses. When the Moon passes only through the penumbra, the faint part of the shadow, that's called a penumbral lunar eclipse. When only a portion of the Moon intersects with the darker umbra, that's a partial lunar eclipse.

As I mentioned, tonight's eclipse is the first in a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. This is a pretty uncommon occurrence known as a tetrad. Only 62 tetrad events will have occurred from 1 A.D. to the year 2100, and just eight in the 1200 months of the 21st century.

Each year there are at least two lunar eclipses and sometimes as many as five. Eclipses don't happen every month because the plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth is tilted. Usually, consecutive eclipses are a mix of partial, penumbral, and the relatively rarer total lunar eclipses. To have four total lunar eclipses happen in a row, as we will over the next seventeen months or so is even rarer. And luckily, all four of them be will visible to most of us in the United States.

Tonight's celestial event begins at 11:55 PM (Minneapolis time) and reaches maximum eclipse at 2:46 AM, then finishes at 4:32 AM. If you want to confirm the times for your area, use this handy eclipse calculator. The night-owl timing of tonight's eclipse might keep many of you from enjoying it (I'll probably be sleeping), but just know there are three more headed our way: October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.

NASA Eclipse Web Site
Eclipse expert Fred Espanek's Lunar Eclipse Primer
Universal Time (UT) conversion table
Observing tips at
Eclipse visibility maps at

Researchers have used a solar eclipse to determine that Odysseus returned home from the Trojan Wars on April 16, 1178 B.C. Not bad for a character widely thought to be fictional.


Stranded Columbus crew starving in Jamaica

Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008
Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008Courtesy NASA Kennedy Space Center
Christopher Columbus sailed to the "New World" several times after his 1492 voyage. On his fourth and last journey ship worms so decimated his four ships that Columbus had to put ashore on the North coast of Jamaica and wait for rescue. Initially, the Jamaican natives welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter in exchange for trinkets and whistles. When the natives no longer wished to provide food after more than six months, half of Columbus' crew mutinied, robbing and murdering some of the natives. With famine now threatening, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan.

A bad moon is going to rise

Columbus, like all good sailors, had an almanac containing astronomical tables providing detailed information about the sun, moon and planets. Using its tables, Columbus calculated that on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, a total eclipse of the moon would take place soon after the time of moonrise. Three days before the eclipse Columbus told the chief that

his Christian god was angry with his people for no longer supplying Columbus and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: Three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear "inflamed with wrath," which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.

According to Columbus's son, Ferdinand, when the moon started to eclipse, the natives ". . . with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions, praying to the Admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf." Just moments before the end of the total phase Columbus reappeared, announcing to the natives that his god had pardoned them and would now allow the moon to gradually return. Columbus and his men were well supplied and well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola finally arrived on June 29, 1504.

Total Lunar eclipse Wed. Feb 20 from 9-10 p.m. CST

Click this for information on when the lunar eclipse occurs around the world.The moon will start entering Earth's shadow at 7:43 pm CST Wednesday. Click this next link for an explanation of how and why you see the moon colored blood red, bright orange, or even a gentle turquoise.


Anybody see the eclipse last night? It looked something like this.

Looking ahead, Charles Deehr of the University of Alaska sends word of a great meteor shower coming on the night of August 31 / September 1. Unfortunately, by the time it hits, the eastern and Midwestern US will already be in daylight. This shower will only be visible on the West Coast, Hawaii and similar places. It's expected to start around 4:00 am PDT, plus or minus 20 minutes, so Californians need to get out there around 3:30 and look east.

He also tells us we may see some aurora activity around the equinox (September 22). The Sun is not particularly active this year, so it won't be a spectacular display -- though he expects next year to start getting better. Anyway, readers in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and the very northern US (northern Minnesota, the UP, places like that) might get lucky and see some.


Diagram of a lunar eclipse: Illustration NASA
Diagram of a lunar eclipse: Illustration NASA

The Earth will pass between the Sun and the Moon today, casting its shadow over the Moon and creating a total lunar eclipse.

The Moon starts to enter the Earth's shadow at 3:18 pm Eastern Time (US). It is fully in shadow from 5:44 pm to 6:57 pm, and then slowly leaves the shadow until it is clear at 9:24 pm.

Eclipse times in other US time zones:

Time Zone (US) Partial eclipse begins Total eclipse begins Total eclipse ends Partial eclipse ends
Eastern 3:18 pm 5:44 pm 6:57 pm 9:24 pm
Central 2:18 pm 4:44 pm 5:57 pm 8:24 pm
Mountain 1:18 pm 3:44 pm 4:57 pm 7:24 pm
Western 12:18 pm 2:44 pm 3:57 pm 6:24 pm

Photo of the Moon during a total eclipse in 2003: Photo NASA

In St. Paul, the Moon will rise tonight at 5:59 pm -- just after the total eclipse phase has ended. You can watch the Moon slowly emerge from the Earth's shadow. (Ancient astronomers watching lunar eclipses noticed that the Earth's shadow was always round -- thus proving that the Earth is round, too.)

To find out when the moon rises and sets in your town today, go to this site.

Note: it is perfectly safe to watch a lunar eclipse with your naked eye. All you are seeing is sunlight bouncing off the Moon's surface. It is no more dangerous than staring at a Full Moon. However, you must never look directly at the Sun, as during a solar eclipse. You can seriously damage your eyes.

To learn more about lunar eclipses, check out Wikipedia or NASA,

The last total eclipse was three years ago; the next will be later this year, on August 28.

I love Earth & Sky radio's skywatching center. It always features tonight's sky chart and weather, plus skywatching tips and any news. Find out when the moon will rise, what phase of the moon we're in, and where visible planets will be in the sky and when you should look. Plus, it's packed with links to other resources, like interviews with scientists and web planetariums. And you can blog! Check it out...

Tonight's full moon is the nearest of 2006. It's 30,000 miles closer to us than it was back in February, when it was furthest away. For those of us in Saint Paul, forecasters say tonight will be fair to partly cloudy, so step outside and take a look!