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.