Jimmy Westlake: Egg moon to be eclipsed Saturday
Early next Saturday morning, Coloradans will experience the third total lunar eclipse of the current tetrad of lunar eclipses. This one will be an early morning event, just before dawn on Saturday, April 4, as the full egg moon glides through the extreme northern part of the Earth’s shadow.
A total eclipse of the moon occurs when three celestial bodies align: the sun, the Earth and the moon. We have a full moon every month, but only rarely are the three required bodies lined up perfectly to create an eclipse.
The proper alignment can happen once every six months, yet it doesn’t always guarantee that there will be a total eclipse of the moon. We are currently in the midst a very unusual series of four total lunar eclipses, six months apart, and all visible from Colorado. Next Saturday’s eclipse is the third in the series.
The upcoming Easter weekend eclipse is not a prime-time event. The moon first touches the Earth’s dark umbral shadow at 4:16 a.m. Saturday, Colorado time, when it is only 26º degrees high in the southwestern sky. Totality begins at 5:58 a.m., in early twilight, and lasts for only five minutes, ending at 6:03 a.m.
It is during these few minutes of totality when the moon’s blood-red color will be most visible, giving the event its nickname of a “blood moon.” The red light that illuminates the moon during a total eclipse is sunlight that has been filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere and stripped of its blue rays. It is the combined light of every sunrise and sunset on Earth at that moment, projected onto the moon.
The moon will set for us at 6:53 a.m., while the partial eclipse is still in progress. The moon exits Earth’s shadow at 7:45 a.m.
Because Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon of spring, the day after the eclipse of the full egg moon, Sunday April 5, will be Easter Sunday this year.
The viewing circumstances of the fourth and final eclipse in the current tetrad this September are much more convenient, happening right around 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. Will you be able to say that you witnessed all four of the lunar eclipses in this unusual tetrad?
Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. His “Celestial News” column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today newspaper and his “Cosmic Moment” radio spots can be heard on local radio station KFMU. Check out Jimmy’s astrophotography website at http://www.jwestlake.com.
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