Lunar eclipses are one of the easiest events in the night sky to watch, and four of such events will happen over the next year. Sky watchers will be treated to the first of these events in just a few weeks.
The first eclipse is scheduled for the early morning hours of 15 April. The event will begin at 1:58 a.m. EDT, as the Moon begins to slide into the shadow of the Earth. Total eclipse begins at 3:07 a.m. eastern time, and peaks 39 minutes later. The eclipse will continue until 5:33 in the morning.
North America has not seen a total eclipse of the Moon since 2011.
Eclipses are caused when the Moon slips into the shadow of the Earth. This does not happen every month, due to the tilt of the Moon's orbit, compared to our home world. When four of these events happen in a row, about six months apart, it is an occurrence known as an eclipse tetrads. The last time this happened was a decade ago, and the next is not due until 2032.
There are three main types of eclipses. The most common of these, penumbral eclipses, are also the hardest to see. Partial eclipses are easier to see - the Moon travels behind the darkest part of the Earth's shadow, but does not travel completely into the darkness. During a total lunar eclipse, our planetary companion travels into the shadow so that its entire surface is blocked from the Sun.
In order to see this event, travel outside just before 2 a.m. You will see the Moon just a little west of due south. As the eclipse begins, you will see the celestial body start to turn red. The Moon will also become darker, until the middle of the event. Reddening of our natural satellite is caused by light bending through the atmosphere of Earth. The total eclipse will last one hour, 17 minutes and 48 seconds, according to NASA.
Dress warm, because it can still get cool in April in most parts of the country. The eclipse will last long enough that you will want to bring a drink, and snacks outside with you while you are observing. No special equipment is needed to see this celestial event, although a pair of binoculars can deliver some stunning views. Look for a set that has a large objective, or main, lens.
The next lunar eclipse will happen on 8 October. Two more total eclipses will take place in 2015 on 4 April and 28 September.
If you are wondering where the Moon went on 15 April, it is not hiding from the tax man.