Jimmy Westlake: Total lunar eclipse due here Monday
April 7, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Total eclipses of the moon are unusual, but not rare. Someone on the Earth gets to see one almost every year, but from any given location, you can expect to see a total lunar eclipse about once every 2 1/2 years on average. The last one seen from Colorado was Dec. 21, 2010, so we've been in a bit of an eclipse lull.
That's about to change, big time.
The sun, moon and Earth line up perfectly for eclipses only during a brief window of opportunity every six months, our so-called "eclipse seasons." Coloradans will be treated to a total lunar eclipse in each of the next four opportunities, beginning next Monday night.
On April 14 and 15, we will be treated to the first total lunar eclipse of the upcoming tetrad. At 11:58 p.m. April 14, just two minutes before the stroke of midnight, the full Easter egg moon will begin to slip into the dark umbral shadow of the Earth. Throughout the next hour, the dark "bite" out of the moon will grow in size until, at 1:06 a.m. April 15, the moon totally will be immersed in Earth's shadow.
For 78 minutes, the full moon will look like a glowing, red ember against the starry sky as the reddened light of every sunrise and sunset on Earth is projected onto the moon at once. The bright blue star Spica will be only 1.5 degrees from the moon during totality and the dazzling planet Mars will lie only 9 degrees away, creating an amazing scene behind the spooky-looking moon.
Totality ends at 2:24 a.m., then the moon slowly emerges back into the full sunlight and finally leaves the Earth's dark shadow at 3:33 a.m.
Lunar eclipses are fun to watch with nothing more than your eyeballs, but if you do own a pair of binoculars, try aiming them at the eclipsed moon. They will enhance the brightness and color of the moon for you. Telescopes don't really add much to the event because they tend to magnify too much.
You won't want to miss this gorgeous eclipse, but if you do, you'll have three more chances in the next 18 months: Oct. 8; April 4, 2015; and Sept 28, 2015.
If you would like to learn more about this week's opposition of the red planet Mars and the upcoming total eclipse of the moon, you're in luck. The Colorado Mountain College SKY Club will host a free Public Astronomy Night program in the Allbright Family Auditorium on the CMC campus at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
I'll present a program titled "Red Planet, Red Moon" and can give you all of the details. Afterward, we'll have a telescope set up for viewing Mars and the un-eclipsed moon, weather permitting. I hope to see you there.
Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. His “Celestial News” column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today newspaper and his “Cosmic Moment” radio spots can be heard on local radio station KFMU. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at http://www.jwestlake.com.