Are you ready for the "blood moon"?
That might sound like something from the "Twilight" series, but it's not as morbid as it sounds. It's just the colloquial name for Monday night's total lunar eclipse. At around midnight, much of North and South America will be able to see the eclipse, which turns the moon a coppery red. (Full details of where, when and how to view the eclipse are at the bottom of this post.)
KPCC science reporter Sanden Totten fills us in on the significance of this eclipse, how it gets its name and what times are best to check out the show.
Why is it called a blood moon?
It's called the blood moon because it's got this red color when the lunar eclipse happens. ... It's actually a natural thing. This happens when the moon fully enters the Earth's shadow. First, it starts getting darker and darker as it enters the shadow. Then, all of a sudden, it's fully immersed, and it actually turns red.
It's sort of the same thing that happens with the sunset. The light from the sun is directly behind the Earth, and it's going towards the moon getting blocked by the Earth. But some of it gets refracted by the Earth's atmosphere. The smaller waves — the greens and blues — get scattered, but the longer ones — the reds and oranges — can kind of curve through the atmosphere like light curving through a crystal and hit the moon and make it red.
Is a blood moon always red?
The cool thing about a blood moon is every time it happens, the color is different, depending on what's in the atmosphere at the time. We could get a creamy orange. We could get a dark crimson red. Or sometimes it's even black if there's a lot of soot in the air from, say, a volcanic eruption.
Will I need special glasses to see the lunar eclipse?
No. This is one of those things where you don't need special glasses. You can just go out there and check it out. If you have a telescope, tonight would be a good time to use it.
How common are these blood moon eclipses, and when is the next one?
It's fairly common. A blood moon happens any time there's a total lunar eclipse. As Laura Danly from the Griffith Observatory told me, eclipses come in two flavors: partial and total. We're about to get four total lunar eclipses right in a row, and because scientists are awesome, they have a word for this: a Tetrad. Every six months from now until some time in 2015, we're going to be getting a total lunar eclipse.
When is the best time to see the eclipse in Los Angeles?
The most dramatic part of the eclipse starts at 10:58 p.m. PDT Monday, April 14th. By 12:06 a.m. PDT, the moon will be fully in the Earth's shadow, and the eclipse peaks around 12:45 am PDT. It will be [over by] 1:30 a.m. PT Tuesday, April 15.
Where can I see the eclipse in the L.A. area?
You should be able to see the eclipse from anywhere the moon is viewable. Look to the south to find the moon, which will be about 45 degrees up. Don't wait too late to start looking, because the moon will get harder to find as the eclipse grows.
You don't have to be high up to view the eclipse; just try to get somewhere with an unobstructed view of the sky. You can also partake in a group viewing of the eclipse at the Griffith Observatory and take part in a number live streams and chats:
- The Griffith Observatory will be open late for people who like to do their skywatching with a crowd — and expect a big crowd tonight, with long lines and lots of walking. You can also watch a live stream of the eclipse at the observatory's website. It opens at 7 p.m. Monday for moon watching and closes at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
- SLOOH Observatory in the Canary Islands off of North Africa is hosting a live stream and will track the eclipse. Along with the stream will be commentary by hosts Bob Berman, Paul Cox, and the Slooh broadcast team.
- NASA is hosting a live chat with astronomer Mitzi Adams and astrophysicist Alphonse Sterling beginning on April 14 at 10 p.m. PDT and continuing through the end of the eclipse (approximately 2 a.m. PDT). The chat module will go live on this page at approximately 9:45 a.m. PDT.