Stargazers, set your alarms.
The last total lunar eclipse of the year is happening Tuesday in the wee hours of the morning. And it’ll be worth staying up late or waking up early to see the show because this is your last chance to see a total lunar eclipse for three years.
According to NASA, the eclipse begins at 3:02 a.m. ET on Nov. 8, when the full moon enters the penumbra, or the outer part of Earth’s shadow, and it begins to dim slightly. But the more dramatic sight begins at 4:09 a.m ET, when the moon enters the main part of Earth’s shadow, or the umbra. That’s when it’ll look like a chunk of the moon is disappearing.
Totality begins at 5:17 am ET, when the entire moon will be obscured by the Earth's shadow, and it will glow an eerie red. The color is not a bad omen. It has to do with an effect called Rayleigh scattering, in which different wavelengths (or colors) of visible light are filtered by the atmosphere. (That's why the sky is blue during the day — blue light is more efficiently scattered in our atmosphere than the other colors, so it's what our eyes pick up.)
During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth blocks the sun's rays from directly hitting the moon, but sunlight still bends around the Earth to gently illuminate the moon. As such, the visible light reaching the moon during totality must travel through Earth's atmosphere, and only the longest wavelengths (red) make it to the lunar surface.
Totality will last until 6:42 a.m. ET, after which the eclipse will reverse through the partial and penumbral phases. On the East Coast, the show will end early, as the moon sets during or just after totality, depending on your location. But West Coast viewers can enjoy the full eclipse, which will end at 5:50 a.m. PT.
If it’s cloudy tonight, don’t worry — NASA is live streaming the event here with lunar scientist Noah Petro and other contributors from around the world. The broadcast begins at 4 a.m. ET, just before the partial eclipse begins.
But if you miss either the live show or the video broadcast, you’re out of luck for three more years. The next total lunar eclipse will occur on March 14, 2025, though we’ll still see penumbral and partial eclipses between now and then. In the meantime, it’ll be time to prepare for the upcoming “Great American” total solar eclipse, which occurs on April 8, 2024.
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