View 2014’s second spectacular total lunar eclipse

North American viewers will be in prime position to see a red-hued Moon October 8.
By | Published: October 1, 2014
Total lunar eclipse sequence
A multiple-exposure photo nicely shows the extent of Earth’s shadow. Our planet’s umbral shadow is nearly three times the Moon’s width at our satellite’s ­distance. Earth’s atmosphere filters and bends sunlight passing through it, giving a totally eclipsed Moon its signature color.
Bret Dahl
To many people, October is foliage season, when the sugar maples turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red and “leaf peepers” descend on quaint New England villages to enjoy nature’s show. But this month, nature delivers a second, equally stunning event. In the predawn hours of October 8, the Full Moon will venture deep into Earth’s shadow and take on its own ruddy hue as it basks in the light from all our planet’s sunrises and sunsets. And you don’t have to travel far to see this lunar eclipse — anyone in North America with a clear sky can witness totality.
October 8, 2014, total lunar eclipse graphic
The October 8 total lunar eclipse plays out over more than five hours before dawn. Because observers in the eastern parts of North America see only the early stages of this event before the Moon sets, we show Pacific times here.
Astronomy: Kellie Jaeger
Viewers across North America will be in prime position to watch the October 8 lunar eclipse. The show gets underway at 4:16 a.m. EDT (1:16 a.m. PDT) when the Moon first touches the lighter outer part of Earth’s shadow: the penumbra. Don’t expect to see the Moon darken immediately, however; the penumbra imparts only subtle shading to what is otherwise still a Full Moon.

The first significant change to our satellite’s appearance comes when it enters the dark inner part of the shadow, known as the umbra. This occurs at 5:15 a.m. EDT (2:15 a.m. PDT) and marks the beginning of the eclipse’s partial phase. Within a few minutes, you’ll notice a small bite taken out of Luna’s western limb.

April 15, 2014, total lunar eclipse
The October 8 total lunar eclipse is the year’s second visible from North America. The deep red hue of the April 15 event impressed everyone who saw it.
Tony Hallas
For the next 70 minutes, the shadow relentlessly devours the Moon. During much of this time, the stark contrast between the shadow and the still-lit portion of the Moon’s surface renders the obscured part nearly black.

That starts to change as totality approaches. Once the Moon completely enters the umbra at 6:25 a.m. EDT (3:25 a.m. PDT), no direct sunlight reaches the surface. Still, our orbiting companion remains visible thanks to Earth’s atmosphere. Our blanket of air bends sunlight so that it partially fills the shadow. Red light, by virtue of its longer wavelength, passes through air more easily than shorter-­wavelength blue light, which gets scattered out. This gives the Moon a reddish cast during totality — and also explains the ruddy colors of sunrise and sunset.

October 8, 2014, total lunar eclipse sky map
The totally eclipsed Moon on October 8 resides in the southern part of the constellation Pisces the Fish. The brightest stars in this area glow only at 2nd magnitude, which will make the Moon stand out well.
Astronomy: Kellie Jaeger
The precise shade of red depends on the state of our atmosphere and the track the Moon takes through the shadow. Water droplets, dust particles, and ash all reduce the air’s transparency. But during the 59 minutes of totality, our satellite stays near the umbra’s northern edge, so the Moon should be relatively bright. All else being equal, brighter eclipses tend to show a ­copper-red or orange hue, while darker ones often appear gray or brown.

While nearly everyone in North America can witness the beginning of totality, along the East Coast, the Moon sets and the Sun rises by the time totality ends at 7:24 a.m. EDT (4:24 a.m. PDT). The eclipse’s partial phases then play out in reverse as our satellite leaves the shadow. It exits the umbra at 5:34 a.m. PDT (visible from the Great Plains westward) and the penumbra at 6:34 a.m. PDT.

April 15, 2014, total lunar eclipse with Spica and Mars
During the April 15 eclipse, the totally eclipsed Moon appeared just above the blue-white star Spica and to the upper left of ruddy Mars. During the October 15 eclipse, the distant world Uranus will be next to the Moon.
Damian Peach
Although North Americans have front-row seats to this event, they aren’t the only ones. People living on or visiting a Pacific Ocean island will have an exceptional view. (For what it’s worth, the Moon lies overhead at greatest eclipse about 1,250 miles [2,000 kilometers] southwest of Hawaii.) For those in Australia, New Zealand, and eastern Asia, the eclipse occurs on the evening of October 8.

Throughout this eclipse, the Moon resides among the dim background stars of southern Pisces the Fish. Although the autumn constellations don’t have a lot of pizzazz under the glare of a Full Moon, the starry backdrop will grow more prominent once totality reigns. The easiest group to spot will be the Great Square of Pegasus, which lies some 15° northeast of the eclipsed Moon.

An even more impressive sight stands about 1° south of our darkened satellite. You’ll need binoculars or a telescope to spot Uranus, which glows at magnitude 5.7 and is less than a day removed from opposition and peak visibility. The two objects appear closer to each other the farther north you live, and from northeastern Asia, the Moon actually passes in front of Uranus during the eclipse.

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