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| Space on Apr 10, 2014

How to watch a total eclipse of the moon

A total lunar eclipse is one of the most dramatic and beautiful – and easiest-to-view – of all astronomical events. There’s one coming up on the night of April 14-15.

Total lunar eclipse for the Americas on night of April 14-15, 2014

A total lunar eclipse is one of the most dramatic and beautiful – and easiest-to-view – of all astronomical events.  During a total lunar eclipse, the sun, Earth and moon form a line in space. Earth’s shadow falls on the face of the moon. An entire hemisphere of Earth can see the eclipse, that is, the whole side of Earth on which it’s nighttime when the eclipse takes place. No special equipment needed.  Just grab your lawn chair, go outside and plan to spend several hours watching the partial phases of the eclipse, followed by the totality itself, when the moon is completely covered by Earth’s shadow.  

A total lunar eclipse is one of nature’s grandest spectacles. Follow the links below to learn more.

First, be sure you know the date and time of the eclipse.

Second, select a location to watch.

Stages of a total lunar eclipse.

What is a Blood Moon?

Track the moon every night throughout the year using EarthSky’s lunar calendar!

Total lunar eclipse mosaic by eclipse master Fred Espenak.   Visit his page for the April 14-14 eclipse.

Total lunar eclipse mosaic by eclipse master Fred Espenak. Visit his page for the April 14-14 eclipse.

First, be sure you know the date and time of the eclipse. Some eclipses take place before dawn, so if the date is April 15, for example, find out if that’s a.m. or p.m. in your location. In the case of the upcoming eclipse, it’s the evening of April 14 and April 15 before dawn in the Americas. Note that the times are often given in what is called Universal Time, or UTC. For the April 14-15 eclipse:

Partial umbral eclipse begins: 5:58 Universal Time (UT)
Total eclipse begins: 7:07 UT
Greatest eclipse: 7:46 UT
Total eclipse ends: 8:25 UT
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 9:33 UT

Here’s how to translate Universal Time to your local time zone.

Click here for more info, including times in North America, for the April 14-15 eclipse.

The April 14-14 eclipse features something really special: the red planet Mars right next to the moon on eclipse night.  Earth passed between Mars and the sun on April 8, and so April 2014 is the best time in six years to see Mars.  This planet appears as a fiery red “star” in our sky, up all night, throughout this month.  During the total eclipse on April 14-15, red Mars and the red shadow on the moon’s face should be a spectacular sight and an incredible photo opportunity. The blue-white star Spica will also be nearby, even closer to the moon at eclipse time.

Brightest Mars in six years!

The only downside to this eclipse is the time of night it occurs.  For all of us in the continental U.S., the total part of the eclipse begins after midnight on the morning of April 15.  Hawaii and Alaska have a somewhat earlier eclipse.  

You might also know that this lunar eclipse marks the beginning of a special eclipse series known as a tetrad.  That’s four total lunar eclipses in a row, with no partial eclipses in between.  This upcoming lunar tetrad seems to have special significance this year in Christian culture, due to a book written by pastor John Hagee called Blood Moons.

What is a Blood Moon?   

Worldwide map of April 14-15, 2014, total lunar eclipse

Worldwide map of the April 14-15, 2014, total lunar eclipse. View larger, courtesy of NASA Eclipse Web Site

View larger. | Worldwide map of the April 14-15, 2014, total lunar eclipse. Map courtesy NASA Eclipse Web Site

Second, select a location to watch. You can see it from cities or suburbs, but rural locations add clarity to the night sky, plus the sights and sounds and smells that can make an eclipse experience truly memorable.

You’ll want a wide open view of the sky, unobscured by trees or tall buildings. You can see an eclipse from inside the city, but there’s a special beauty to watching in a country location, where thousands of stars pop into view. City parks or state parks are often good places to watch the skies. Check the closing times! Or plan to camp out overnight.

Recline comfortably and observe the eclipse.

Stages of a total lunar eclipse. Eclipses last several hours and have several parts.

  • Penumbral eclipse begins – The outer, light penumbral shadow begins to cover the moon. This phase of the eclipse is subtle. Some people say they can’t tell it’s happening, even while looking right at it. It looks like a dusky shading moving across the moon’s face. For the next hour or two, gradually more and more of the moon will be in shadow.
  • Partial eclipse begins – The inner, dark umbral shadow begins to cover the moon. Like the penumbral shadow, it starts on one side and slowly creeps across the moon’s face. It looks like a dark bite taken out of the moon.
  • Total eclipse begins – The dark shadow completely covers the moon. This is the total phase of the eclipse, called the totality. It generally lasts for the better part of an hour. During the totality, the shadow on the moon often appears red. It is very beautiful!
  • Greatest eclipse – The middle of the eclipse. The totality is still going on.
  • Total eclipse ends – The inner, dark umbral shadow begins to leave the moon’s face. A sliver of light appears on one edge of the moon. For the next hour or two, gradually less and less of the moon will be in shadow.
  • Partial eclipse ends – The inner, dark umbral shadow leaves the moon.
  • Penumbral eclipse ends – the light, outer penumbral shadow leaves the moon. The eclipse is over.

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon looks red.

Why does the moon look red during a total lunar eclipse?

Bottom line: You have to be in the right place on Earth’s globe to see a total eclipse of the moon. But there’s a good chance you will be, since half the world can see a lunar eclipse. The total lunar eclipse of April 14-15, 2014 is visible from the Americas. You will enjoy a lunar eclipse more under a dark sky. Plan to watch for several hours. Watch the various parts of the eclipse. Optical aid, such as binoculars, will enhance the view. Have fun!

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