'Blood moon' in store during lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning


An unusually beautiful sight will be visible in the night sky early Tuesday morning, when a total lunar eclipse will turn the moon a burnt reddish orange, NASA says.

It's called a blood moon, and it often gets that color because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon, according to the EarthSky website.

"Total lunar eclipses occur on Earth about every six months, but Minnesotans have not seen a total lunar eclipse since 2010 because the moon, Earth, and sun must align just right,” said Bell Museum planetarium education and outreach coordinator Sally Brummel in a news release.

The sky show will start shortly after midnight in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when the moon will begin to turn red. If the skies are clear the viewing will be good, according to Twin Cities meterologist and amateur astronomer Mike Lynch. Unlike solar eclipses, you don't need any special equipment to view a lunar eclipse.

The moon will takes a little more than three and a half hours to completely sweep through the Earth’s dark shadow, and will be entirely eclipsed for about 90 minutes.

The moon doesn't black out completely during lunar eclipses because the Earth's umbra, or shadow, is not totally dark. Sunlight finds its way to the moon through the Earth's atmosphere, which filters out most of the blues and yellows. So the reddish glow is all that's left, according to Lynch. The shade of red varies depending on atmospheric conditions.

The weather forecast for late Monday/early Tuesday calls for partly cloudy skies overnight, so it should be quite easy to see the eclipse. But you'll want to bundle up a bit, because temperatures are expected to be in the 20s.

Here is what to expect, assuming the skies are clear:

- Start of easiest eclipse viewing: 12:58 a.m. Tuesday

- Start of total eclipse: 2:07 a.m.

- Mid-eclipse: 2:46 a.m.

- End of total eclipse: 3:35 a.m.

- End of easiest eclipse viewing: 4:34 a.m.

Source: University of Minnesota, Bell Museum planetarium

NASA has set up a live web chat to answer questions about the eclipse starting at midnight Central Time.

This is just the first in a series of four consecutive total eclipses over the next year and a half that will be visible in North America, according to Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist on his Mr. Eclipse website. They'll occur about every six months on these dates: October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.

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Lunar eclipse early Saturday morning

It's an event that won't last long, and you'll need to get an early start, but onlookers can catch a lunar eclipse Saturday morning. The best times for viewing are between 6:45 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.