Don't forget to look skyward in the early hours of Saturday morning (April 4), to catch a glimpse of the shortest total lunar eclipse of the century.
The moon will be completely swallowed by Earth's shadow for just 4 minutes and 43 seconds on Saturday morning, according to NASA officials. During that time, the moon may change from its normal grayish hue to a deep, blood red. The total eclipse begins at 6:16 a.m. EDT (1016 GMT). You can watch a live webcast of the eclipse on the Slooh Observatory website, Slooh.com, or here at Space.com courtesy of Slooh, starting at 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT). That color change can make for a dramatic display, especially for humans in the distant past, NASA officials said.
"For early humans, [a lunar eclipse] was a time when they were concerned that life might end, because the moon became blood red and the light that the moon provided at night might have been taken away permanently," Mitzi Adams, an astronomer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said during a news conference today (April 3). "But fortunately, [the light] always returned."
The April 4 eclipse is the third in a series of four total lunar eclipses — known as a lunar tetrad — visible in the United States. Each of the eclipses is separated by about 6 months. The final installment of this four-eclipse series will occur on Sept. 28. Saturday's lunar eclipse follows closely behind the total solar eclipse that took place on March 20.
Earth's shadow has an outer ring, called the penumbra, and an inner core, called the umbra. Where the moon passes into the penumbra, it appears dark, as if a bite had been taken out of it. When the moon passes though the umbra, it turns a deep, red color.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon is totally submerged in the umbra. On Saturday, the moon will begin to enter the umbra at about 6:16 a.m. EDT (1016 GMT) but will not be completely covered by the shadow until about 7:57 EDT (1157 GMT), after the moon has set in most locations east of the Mississippi River.
While the total eclipse will last less than five minutes, the moon will be partially submerged in the umbra for about one hour and 40 minutes. The dark shadow of the penumbra will first be visible on the moon's surface starting at about 5:35 a.m. EDT (0935 GMT), according to Sky and Telescope magazine.
Viewers west of the Mississippi River will be able to see the total lunar eclipse, starting at about 4:57 a.m. PDT (1157 GMT). Skywatchers in Hawaii and western Alaska will be able to watch the entire eclipse, from the moon's entrance to its exit from the penumbra.
This world maps shows the regions where the April 4 total lunar eclipse will be visible. The best viewing locations are in the Pacific Ocean.
This weekend's eclipse is extremely short because the moon is only passing through the outskirts of the umbra. (The shortest total lunar eclipse in recorded history, according to Adams, was in 1529 and lasted only 1 minute and 41 seconds).
The eclipse will not be visible in Europe or most of Africa. The partial eclipse will be visible in all except the easternmost parts of South America. The best viewing locations for the total eclipse will be in the Pacific region, including eastern Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Oceania.View Article Here Read More
The first of two eclipse seasons for the year is upon us this month, and kicks off with the only total solar eclipse for 2015 on Friday, March 20th.
And what a bizarre eclipse it is. Not only does this eclipse begin just 15 hours prior to the March equinox marking the beginning of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere, but the shadow of totality also beats path through the high Arctic and ends over the North Pole.
An animation of the March 20th eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/AT Sinclair.
Already, umbraphiles — those who chase eclipses — are converging on the two small tracts of terra firma where the umbra of the Moon makes landfall: the Faroe and Svalbard islands. All of Europe, the northern swath of the African continent, north-central Asia and the Middle East will see a partial solar eclipse, and the eclipse will be deeper percentage-wise the farther north you are . 2015 features four eclipses in all: two total lunars and two solars, with one total solar and one partial solar eclipse. Four is the minimum number of eclipses that can occur in a calendar year, and although North America misses out on the solar eclipse action this time ’round, most of the continent gets a front row seat to the two final total lunar eclipses of the ongoing tetrad on April 4th and September 28th.
How rare is a total solar eclipse on the vernal equinox? Well, the last total solar eclipse on the March equinox occurred back in 1662 on March 20th. There was also a hybrid eclipse — an eclipse which was annular along a portion of the track, and total along another — on March 20th, 1681. But you won’t have to wait that long for the next, as another eclipse falls on the northward equinox on March 20th, 2034.
The path of the March 20th eclipse across Europe, including start times for the partial phases, and the path of totality, click to enlarge. For more maps showing the percentage of occlusion, elevation, and more, click here. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmercianEclipse.com.
Note that in the 21st century, the March equinox falls on March 20th, and will start occasionally falling on March 19th in 2044. We’re also in that wacky time of year where North America has shifted back to ye ‘ole Daylight Saving (or Summer) Time, while Europe makes the change after the eclipse on March 29th. It really can wreak havoc with those cross-time zone plans, we know… The March 20th eclipse also occurs only a day after lunar perigee, which falls on March 19th at 19:39 UT. This is also one of the closer lunar perigees for 2015 at 357,583 kilometres distant, though the maximum duration of totality for this eclipse is only 2 minutes and 47 seconds just northeast of the Faroe Islands.
Views from selected locales in Europe and Africa. Credit: Stellarium.
This eclipse is number 61 of 71 in solar saros series 120, which runs from 933 to 2754 AD. It’s also the second to last total in the series, with the final total solar eclipse for the saros cycle occurring one saros later on March 30th, 2033.
What would it look like to sit at the North Pole and watch a total solar eclipse on the first day of Spring? It would be a remarkable sight, as the disk of the Sun skims just above the horizon for the first time since the September 2014 equinox. Does this eclipse occur at sunrise or sunset as seen from the pole? It would be a rare spectacle indeed!
An equinoctal eclipse as simulated from the North Pole. Credit: Stellarium.
Practicing eclipse safety in Africa. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmericanEclipse.com
Safety is paramount when observing the Sun and a solar eclipse. Eye protection is mandatory during all partial phases across Europe, northern Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. A proper solar filter mask constructed of Baader safety film is easy to construct, and should fit snugly over the front aperture of a telescope. No. 14 welder’s goggles are also dense enough to look at the Sun, as are safety glasses specifically designed for eclipse viewing. Observing the Sun via projection or by using a pinhole projector is safe and easy to do.
A solar filtered scope ready to go in Tucson, Arizona. Credit: photo by author.
Weather is always the big variable in the days leading up to any eclipse. Unfortunately, March in the North Atlantic typically hosts stormy skies, and the low elevation of the eclipse in the sky may hamper observations as well. From the Faroe Islands, the Sun sits 18 degrees above the horizon during totality, while from the Svalbard Islands it’s even lower at 12 degrees in elevation. Much of Svalbard is also mountainous, making for sunless pockets of terrain that will be masked in shadow on eclipse day. Mean cloud amounts for both locales run in the 70% range, and the Eclipser website hosts a great in-depth climatology discussion for this and every eclipse.
The view of totality and the planets as seen from the Faroe Islands. Credit: Starry Night.
But don’t despair: you only need a clear view of the Sun to witness an eclipse!
Solar activity is also another big variable. Witnesses to the October 23rd, 2014 partial solar eclipse over the U.S. southwest will recall that we had a massive and very photogenic sunspot turned Earthward at the time. The Sun has been remarkably calm as of late, though active sunspot region 2297 is developing nicely. It will have rotated to the solar limb come eclipse day, and we should have a good grasp on what solar activity during the eclipse will look like come early next week.
And speaking of which: could an auroral display be in the cards for those brief few minutes of totality? It’s not out of the question, assuming the Sun cooperates. Of course, the pearly white corona of the Sun still gives off a considerable amount of light during totality, equal to about half the brightness of a Full Moon. Still, witnessing two of nature’s grandest spectacles — a total solar eclipse and the aurora borealis — simultaneously would be an unforgettable sight, and to our knowledge, has never been documented!
We also put together some simulations of the eclipse as seen from Earth and space:
Note that an area of southern Spain may witness a transit of the International Space Station during the partial phase of the eclipse. This projection is tentative, as the orbit of the ISS evolves over time. Be sure to check CALSky for accurate predictions in the days leading up to the eclipse.
The ISS transits the Sun during the eclipse around 9:05 UT as seen from southern Spain. Credit: Starry Night.
Can’t make it to the eclipse? Live in the wrong hemisphere? There are already a few planned webcasts for the March 20th eclipse:
If you thought Saturn’s ring system was impressive, spare a thought for the rings surrounding the giant exoplanet J1407b — the rings of J1407b wouldn’t only dwarf Saturn’s, the system is so big that it eclipses the massive world’s host star!
J1407b’s ring system was the first of its kind to be discovered outside of the solar system in 2012, but in new research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, the awesome scale of the rings has been realized. Over 30 individual rings have been observed, each one tens of millions of miles in diameter, and between each concentric ring are gaps that indicate the presence of exomoons — not too dissimilar to Saturn’s ‘shepherd moons’ that continue to shape Saturn’s rings today.
“The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system. If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.”
Although it has been long theorized that moons can form from the debris surrounding planets, until 2012, astronomers hadn’t found any example of a ringed gas giant beyond our solar system. But now they have a super-sized ring system surrounding a world orbiting another star that provides evidence for a system of exomoons embedded inside a vast ring system.
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