If you don’t have binoculars, borrow a pair. If you have a telescope, make sure it’s in good working order.
People in North America are going to be able to see four lunar eclipses unfold during a two year period that begins late on the night of April 14th. The eclipses will occur about once every six months. It’s known as the tetrad. It’s not unusual to have one eclipse follow another. But it is rare to have four consecutive total lunar eclipses evenly spaced in time.
San Diego will be exposed to a second total eclipse on October 8th, a partial eclipse on April 4, 2015, and a total eclipse on Sept. 27, 2015.
During this month’s eclipse, people across San Diego County will begin to see the moon slip into Earth’s shadow at 9:55 p.m. on April 14th. The full eclipse starts at 12:08 a.m. April 15th, and the event ends at 3:36 a.m.
It could be a breathtaking event. Scientists say that if skies are clear, people will see the color of the moon change from a silvery white to a coppery red, then turn back to silver.
“The moon can take on a reddish appearance during a lunar eclipse because some sunlight gets through the Earth’s atmosphere and that light still hits the moon,” said Lisa Will, an astrophysicist at San Diego City College. “The parts of the atmosphere that the light is filtering through are over the locations along the earth’s terminator (the line between night and day) that are experiencing sunrise and sunset. So we’re basically seeing the light from sunrises and sunsets all over the Earth hitting the moon. Depending on atmospheric conditions, the moon can look yellow to vivid red.”
The eclipse is only one of a series of beautiful sites that will appear in local skies during 2014. Here’s a sample of what’s coming up.
APRIL 8: Mars and the sun will be on opposite sides of the sky as seen from Earth, a phenomenon known as opposition. This opposition occurs every 26 months. Mars will be easy to see on April 8. Look for it on the eastern horizon at sunset. Six days later, on April 14, Mars and Earth will reach their closest point to each other this year. They’ll be 57,166,149 miles apart. The two planets won’t get that close again until May 2016.
MAY 10: Saturn and the sun will be on opposite sides of the sky as seen from Earth — an opposition that occurs once a year. Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system, will be visible as it rises in the southeast. Astronomer Dominic Ford says on his website, In-The-Sky.org that, “For a few hours around the exact moment of opposition, it may be possible to discern a marked brightening of Saturn’s rings in comparison to the planet’s disk, known as the Seeliger Effect.”
JUNE 7: The gibbous moon will pass within two degrees of Mars in the western sky, creating a pretty conjunction that should appeal to astrophotographers. Astronomy.org says the planets will be visible for six hours.
— Gary Robbins