This weekend, if you are located in the Western Hemisphere, you will have the opportunity to see something amazing – a total eclipse of the moon. If more amazing than that, this eclipse will be during the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon closest to the September equinox, and it will be during a Supermoon, which means that the moon will be at its closest point to Earth (perigee) for all of 2015 (some 221,753 miles away). If a total lunar eclipse that occurs on a Supermoon that is also the Harvest Moon isn’t enough for you, this total lunar eclipse is also known as a “blood moon”!
From the blood moon, to a partial solar eclipse, there have been a number of great things to see in the sky during 2014. The one disappointing thing about 2014 in terms of astronomy is that all of the annual meteor showers have so far been somewhat disappointing. However, that may be about to change. Even though the annual Geminid Meteor shower has already began as of December 4, 2014, it will peak from December 12-14, 2014, before ending on December 17, 2014.
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, there will be a partial solar eclipse of the sun, and the first visible partial solar eclipse that has occurred in North America since May 20, 2012. Even more spectacularly, the partial eclipse will occur during the sunset hours on the East Coast, which should provide a fantastic visual spectacle at or around sunset. However, skywatchers in the midwest and West Coast regions will also have excellent views of the eclipse as well during the mid-afternoon hours.
One of the more obscure and strange hiking destinations in San Diego is located on the Eastern border of the county, and sits right on the border of the Anza-Borrego State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. In addition to being one of the strangest hiking destinations, the spot has some of the best views in the county as it is located on the edge of the Laguna Mountains.
Once again, it's that time of year, when the sons of Perseus streak across the nighttime sky. Generally, this is a great meteor shower to watch, as the Perseids are one of the larger showers that have been observed continuously from 36 A.D. through the present day. This year, however, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower coincides with a supermoon. The supermoon of August 10, 2014, is not just any supermoon - it's the largest supermoon of all of 2014. It also has a number of names, such as the Sturgeon moon; the Green Corn Moon; and the Grain Moon. This supermoon will also be 14% closer and 30% brighter than all of the other full moons of 2014. And, in terms of hard numbers, the August 10 full moon will be 221,675 miles away from the Earth; and while this may seem far, this is actually the closest the moon will be to the Earth until the full moon of September 28, 2015.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the supermoon on August 10, 2014 means that this year, the Perseid Meteor Shower will be hard to see, as its peak days will be August 12-13, 2014, and during those nights, the light of the supermoon will flood the sky. If you are still interested trying to see the Perseids this year, the best time to view is anytime from August 6, 2014 to August 13, 2014 during the pre-dawn hours, after the moon has set, from 2am until dawn.
The other thing that will aid you in catching a glimpse of the Perseids is to get away from unnatural light sources. The best thing you can to do to improve your chances to see the Perseids is to get outside. Cities generate a lot of light pollution, which makes it harder to see everything in the night sky, including the Perseids. Secondly, as the supermoon is bright in 2014, and will not set until the pre-dawn hours, you will need to have lots of patience. Even if you wake up in around 2am, your eyes will need a little bit of time to adjust to the dark; so sit back; relax, and enjoy watching the universe move in inscrutable and beautiful ways. Finally, be sure to have fun! If you're heading out to watch the Perseids - or the supermoon, bring food, drinks, and plenty of blankets and pillows to stay comfortable and warm.
Interested in science? You might like this NASA app HERE; and about the dust passing through our atmosphere during the shower here. And, if your interested in the Perseids, here's ten facts about the meteor shower.
Brace yourselves - it's coming! Just when you thought it was safe to head outside and look at the skies, there's yet another cosmic phenomenon coming that portends doom, gloom, and the end to everything that we know. That's right - I'm talking about the total lunar eclipse of April 2014, otherwise known as (wait for it) the BLOOD MOON (dun dun dunnnnnnn!) . Yes, I know: it's hard to believe that its been three years since the last total lunar eclipse - but, let's be honest - the sun, moon, and other objects in our solar system don't really care about time - they just follow their orbital paths, so to them, three years is nothing. Surprisingly enough, we, the human race, are still here; but don't worry: next week's upcoming lunar eclipse is even more eclipse-y (I know, not a word) than 2011's - because it is the blood moon! I'll talk more about the BLOOD MOON hoopla in a minute (really, it sounds like something from a B-Grade horror movie), but first, let's talk about the facts (what is the eclipse, can I look at it, how to see it, and where to see it):
What Is A Total Lunar Eclipse? A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly behind the Earth, and into its shadow (umbra). When the Moon is in this position, the Earth blocks the sun's rays (light) from striking the moon. This alignment is known as "syzygy"; and only occurs the night of a full moon. For visual people, picture this alignment: sun-Earth-moon all in a straight line.
Can a Total Lunar Eclipse Be Viewed With the Naked Eye? Yes! Fun fact: Unlike a Solar Eclipse, a lunar eclipse can be viewed safely with the naked eye, as you are looking away from the sun. Remember, a lunar eclipse features the alignment of Sun-Earth-Moon, with the eye facing toward the moon, whereas a solar eclipse features the alignment of Earth-Moon-SUN, with the eye facing the SUN, which is not safe to view with the naked eye. Therefore, the lunar eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye, and if you can, you should view it, as they are usually quite spectacular.
When Will the Lunar Eclipse of 2014 Occur? The eclipse will start on April 14, 2014, but for most portions of the viewing area will be visible on April 15, 2014.
When Can I see the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? Mr. Eclipse of Mr. Eclipse.com has a great chart and diagram series with times for all of North America and beyond. I highly recommend it, and suggest if you're interested in seeing the eclipse, you use the times on the chart and plan your eclipse watching accordingly.
Where Is the Best Spot to See the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? Anywhere in North or South America. Sorry, rest of the world, the timing isn't quite right for you to see this eclipse.
How Can I See the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? As with any cosmic phenomena - meteors, comets, and general stargazing, the best way to view the eclipse is to head to any area that is as dark as possible. This means that you want to be as far away from unnatural light sources as possible. In 2011, when I watched the last total lunar eclipse, I headed up to Mt. Laguna, and was treated to some stunning views of the eclipse and the milky way. If you can't make it out of whichever city you find yourself in, try and find the darkest safest spot you can (such as a park), and chances are, unless you are smack dab in the middle of the city, you will see something. Tip: no matter where you are, go outside for five to ten minutes before the eclipse to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness (or as dark as it gets). Also, Space.com has some additional great viewing tips here.
Ok, I've got the sciency stuff down - why is this lunar eclipse called the "BLOOD MOON"? Well, the first full moon of April is called a "pink moon" per North American Native American Traditions; and per Christian tradition, the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox is called the "Paschal Full Moon". This eclipse is being called a "BLOOD MOON" because during the eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth's dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon's surface, causing it to look red or reddish colored. Spooky, right? In addition to that, the term is getting A LOT of traction in the media based on comments of Texas Pastor John Hagee, and frankly, by the time the BLOOD MOON arrives, I imagine the whole internet will be aflame with all sort of lovely conspiracies and other biblical prophecies that will no doubt involve Godzilla, Planet X, Batsquatch, Sasquatch, Lemuria, Atlantis, and every other secret society and the Mayans. If you're really interested in learning more, my friends at Earthsky have put together a great collection of links relating to it here.
Wait Wait Wait - is the BLOOD MOON related to this TETRAD thingy? Sigh. Short answer: yes. The TETRAD is another term that is being bandied about with the BLOOD MOON as a possible harbinger of yet another predicted APOCALYPSE. What it really is is a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses that will occur from April 15, 2014 onward that are not separated by partial lunar eclipses that also happen to occur exactly six lunar months apart from each other and also (conspiracy/end of world theorists rejoice) also happen to fall on four successive jewish holidays. Again, I'm not going to address this here, as the internet is already on fire as discussed noted above (BLOOD! MAYANS! PROPHECY! MISSPELLINGS! FUNKY TERMS LIKE TETRAD!). In order to see why its no big deal, you can read any link above, or these links here and here.
Ok, fine - prophecies and internet rumors aside, is there anything else I should know about the April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse? Yes! It will also be a great time to view the Virgo constellation, as the moon will be eclipsed!
Happy Stargazing, Eclipse Watching, and more - and if you're worried about the internet rumors out there, remember that we heard many of the same things for the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse....and we're still here watching the skies.