First Total Lunar Eclipse of 2014: The Complete Guide: Page 2

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A composite of images form the January 2000 lunar eclipse captured by Victor Rogus.
Victor Rogus

Stage 4 @ 2:49 a.m. EDT: 75 percent coverage — With three-quarters of the moon's disk now eclipsed, that part of it that is immersed in shadow should begin to very faintly light up, similar to a piece of iron heated to the point where it just begins to glow. It will become obvious that the umbral shadow is not complete darkness. Using binoculars or a telescope, its outer part is usually light enough to reveal lunar seas and craters, but the central part is much darker, and sometimes no surface features are recognizable. Colors in the umbra vary greatly from one eclipse to the next, Reds and grays usually dominate, but sometimes browns, blues and other colors can be spotted.

Stage 5 @ 3:01 a.m. EDT: Less than five minutes to totality — Several minutes before (and after) totality, the contrast between the remaining pale-yellow sliver and the ruddy-brown coloration spread over the rest of the moon's disk. This may produce a beautiful phenomenon known to some as the "Japanese lantern effect."

Stage 6 @ 3:06 a.m. EDT: Total eclipse begins — When the last of the moon enters the umbra, the total eclipse begins. No one knows how the moon will appear during totality. Some eclipses are such a dark gray-black that the moon nearly vanishes from view. The moon can glow a bright orange during other eclipses.

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The reason the moon can be seen at all when totally eclipsed is that sunlight is scattered and refracted around the edge of Earth by the planet's atmosphere. To an astronaut standing on the moon during totality, the sun would be hidden behind a dark earth outlined by a brilliant red ring consisting of all the world's sunrises and sunsets. The brightness of this ring around Earth depends on global weather conditions and the amount of dust suspended in the air. A clear atmosphere on Earth means a bright lunar eclipse. If a major volcanic eruption has injected particles into the stratosphere, the eclipse is very dark.

Stage 7 @ 3:46 a.m. EDT: Middle of totality — The moon will shine anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times fainter than it did just a couple of hours ago. Since the moon is moving to the north of the center of Earth’s umbra, the gradation of color and brightness across the lunar disk should be such that its lower portion should appear darkest, with hues of deep copper or chocolate brown. Meanwhile, its upper portion should appear brightest, with hues of reds, oranges and even perhaps a soft bluish-white. [10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

Observers away from bright city lights will notice a much greater number of stars than were visible earlier in the night. During totality, the moon will be seen just a couple of degrees away from the star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Although Spica is one of the 21 brightest stars in the sky, before the eclipse begins the moon will almost seem to overwhelm the star with its light. But during totality, Spica will become much more conspicuous and its bluish color will contrast strikingly with the eerie, ruddy moon.

The darkness of the sky could be impressive. The surrounding landscape may take on a somber hue. Before the eclipse, the full moon looked flat and one-dimensional. During totality, however, it will look smaller and three-dimensional — like some weirdly illuminated ball suspended in space.

Before the moon entered the earth's shadow, the temperature at the lunar equator on its sunlit surface hovered at 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius). Since the moon lacks an atmosphere, there is no way that this heat could be retained from escaping into space as the shadow sweeps by. When in shadow, the temperature on the moon plummets to about minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 degrees Celsius), which equates to a drop of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius) in only about two hours.

Stage 8 @ 4:24 a.m. EDT: Total eclipse ends —The emergence of the moon from the shadow begins. The first small segment of the moon begins to reappear, followed again for the next several minutes by the "Japanese lantern effect."

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Stage 9 @ 4:41 a.m. EDT: 75 percent coverage —Any vestiges of coloration within the umbra should be disappearing now. From here on, as the dark shadow methodically creeps off the moon's disk it should appear black and featureless.

Stage 10 @ 5:33 a.m. EDT: Moon leaves umbra —The dark central shadow clears the moon’s upper right hand (northwestern) limb.

Stage 11 @ 5:53 a.m. EDT: Penumbra shadow fades away —As the last, faint shading vanishes off the moon's upper right portion, the visual show comes to an end.

Stage 12: Moon leaves penumbra —The eclipse "officially" ends, as the moon is completely free of the penumbral shadow.

Original article on Space.com.

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