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April 14, 2014

Tonight’s total lunar eclipse begins an interesting trend

April 14-15, 2014, total lunar eclipse begins an 18 month tetrad

If you’re a nighttime sky watcher, tonight likely holds a special interest for you. At 2 a.m. EDT, the first of a tetrad – four back-to-back total lunar eclipses – will begin. The other three will occur in six month intervals, which mean September of this year and April and September of 2015.

While, lunar eclipses usually occur about every six months, not all of them are total and not all of them are viewable from the United States. This set is particularly special in those ways. So, if the weather does not cooperate overnight (and in the Triangle area, it probably won’t), there will be three more chances to witness the event over the next 18 months.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth passes between the sun and the moon, covering the moon fully in the earth’s shadow. You might have heard tonight’s moon called a “blood moon” among other unusual names. In this case, while the moon is completely covered by the shadow of the earth, the sunlight that passes around the circumference of the earth and makes it to the moon will appear dark red.

A video story on space.com poetically and accurately explains that the reason for the red tint is that we would be seeing the light from all of the sunrises and sunsets across the world at that exact moment. It’s a beautiful thought.

Unfortunately for us, we are expecting clouds and rain across most of the state overnight as a storm system approaches from the west. That system, by the way, could also bring severe thunderstorms to the eastern half of North Carolina, including the Triangle, tomorrow.

If you want to take a chance on witnessing tonight’s spectacle, the eclipse will begin around 2 a.m. EDT, and the moon should fully enter the earth’s shadow around 3 a.m. EDT. That phase will last about 78 minutes according to space.com. You can set your clocks accordingly, or just wait for the next opportunity in September.

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