Stories tagged lunar 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


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.