The shortest solar eclipse of the century occurred on April 4 — an event with a 10-minute peak missed by most skywatchers. The eclipse briefly turned the moon an array of colors — blood red, orange, blue and grayish-white.
Observers on the east coast of the United States witnessed a partial eclipse just before the moon set over the horizon. Those in western states were able to view the phenomenon for a little longer.
"I just saw a partial eclipse this morning. The moon ran out of sky and slipped behind the trees," said Laura Austin of Sarnia, Ontario.
Images of the latest eclipse were broadcast on the websites of the Griffith Observatory and the Slooh Community Observatory.
Lunar eclipses occur when the moon orbits behind Earth, falling into the shadow created by our planet. Due to the angle of the moon's orbit around Earth, eclipses don't take place every month. Our natural satellite usually moves either above or below the cone-shaped shadow.
There are two parts to this shadow — the outer, dimmer penumbra and the inner, darker umbra. When the moon passes into the outer part of the cone, observers see a "bite" taken out of the circle.
If and when it enters the umbra, the moon can turn a deep red and darken significantly. The bloody color seen during lunar eclipses is generated by light from sunrises and sunsets around the world refracting through the atmosphere and falling upon the lunar surface.
During the eclipse on April 4, the moon barely passed into the umbra — classifying the phenomenon as a total lunar eclipse. Some regions between illumination and darkness shone in whitish-gray hues not often seen during such events. Skywatchers are usually awed by the deep red "blood moon" of lunar eclipses — a common term not favored by most astronomers.
More than 200 people gathered at an observatory in Japan to view the eclipse, in spite of marginal sky conditions for the event.
"We were so thrilled to see the beautiful moon eclipsing and turning red. We were worried that the sky was slightly filmy, but we were relieved to watch the totality from beginning to end," said Yuko Miura, an observatory official.
A video of the April eclipse is available on the NASA YouTube channel.
The next lunar eclipse will take place on September 28, 2015, although that event will only be seen by observers in the eastern hemisphere.