Special Viewing Sessions - Eclipses, Transits, etc.

Total Lunar Eclipse - 2014 April 15 (Tuesday Morning)

Occasionally, Cline Observatory holds viewing sessions for special events such as eclipses, transits, or other remarkable astronomical phenomena.  These sessions are presented in the same manner as our Friday public viewings, though if the situation requires, we may shift our portable telescopes to other locations on campus.

Three hundered visitors came to GTCC to observe the 2012 Venus Transit - a phenomenon that will not be seen on Earth again until 2117.  For more information about this event, see our Transit of Venus page.

Recent special sessions we have scheduled include:

  • Venus Transit   2012 June 05
  • Lunar Eclipse  2010 December 10 (cloudy)
  • Lunar Eclipse  2008 February 21
  • Lunar Eclipse  2007 March 03
  • Mercury Transit  2006 November 08 (cloudy)
  • Lunar Eclipse  2004 October 27
  • Venus Transit  2004 June 06 (cloudy)

Note: Cline Observatory DOES NOT hold special sessions for meteor showers because they are best observed without telescopes, and are usually best seen from dark locations between midnight and dawn.

As with our Friday public viewings, all Cline Observatory special viewing sessions are free and open to anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Cline Observatory Will NOT Hold a Viewing Sessions for the 15 April Lunar Eclipse

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur in the early morning hours of Tuesday, 15 April.  Such eclipses are relatively rare for a particular location - the last total lunar eclipse visible in North Carolina was in December 2010.  There has been significant hype about this event, with various persons assigning particular significance to the predicted blood-red appearance of the Moon during the eclipse, but there's noting special about this particular eclipse or its appearance.  The Moon usually takes on a reddish hue during mid-eclipse due to effects of Earth's atmosphere.  What IS notable is the fact that it is the first of four eclipses visible from our region during the next year and a half.

Due to the late hour of the occurrence of the eclipse, Cline Observatory will not be officially open for public viewing that night, but you don't need to visit an observatory to view an eclipse anyway.  Lunar eclipses are easily observed from any location where the Moon is visible.  No telescopes are necessary.  Just step outside and look up!

 

How Lunar Eclipses Occur

A total eclipse occurs when the Moon passes into the shadow of the Earth, darkening the lunar surface.  (We normally see the Moon by the sunlight it reflects.)  Such events only occur during the full Moon phase, when the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky.  During most months, the full Moon passes just above or below our shadow, and an eclipse does not occur.   But when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in the same plane in space, the full Moon passes into our shadow and a lunar eclipse happens. These precise alignments bring us the possibility of lunar eclipses roughly every six months.

Details for this Eclipse

As shown in the map below (courtesy NASA), the total lunar eclipse of 15 April 2014 will be visible in its entirety throughout North Carolina.

TLE2014APR15-NASAFig01-bottom

By 1:40 a.m. (all times noted are EDT) the bright full Moon will show a slight darkening at its eastern edge.  (We see the Moon move gradually west to east as it shifts along its orbit.  That's why it rises later on successive nights.)

Partial eclipse begins at 1:58, as the deep shadow starts to eat away at the orb of the Moon.  Over the next hour or so, the Moon will slowly slip into darkness, revealing constellations that were washed out by the bright Moonlight earlier in the evening.

As totality approaches (it begins at 3:06), it will become apparent that the Moon is not fading to complete invisibility - the darkened Moon will likely shine with a reddish color. The intensity of this light varies from eclipse to eclipse, and it is due to the combined glow of all the sunsets and sunrises around the Earth filtering through our atmosphere to reach the Moon.  Each eclipse is slightly different, depending on the path of the Moon through our shadow and the condition of our atmosphere. (More particles in the upper atmosphere, due for example to volcanic eruptions, will block more light from passing.) So pay attention to the Moon's color during the eclipse.  Is it actually blood-red?  Or is it brick-red, basketball-orange, or dull gray?

During this eclipse the Moon will appear darker at the top and lighter at the bottom, since it will pass through the bottom half of Earth's shadow, as shown in the diagram below, adapted for EDT times from NASA eclipse resources.

TLE2014APR15-NASAFig01-top-EDT

Much has been made of the predicted redness of the Moon during this eclipse. And some unscientific predictions of what this "blood Moon" might portend are circulating widely.  But red lunar eclipses are normal, and there is no specific significance to the 15 April eclipse or its appearance.

Mid-eclipse occurs at 3:46, after which the Moon will slip out the other side of our shadow, with totality ending at 4:24.  The progression seen earlier will reverse as the receding shadow uncovers more and more of the bright lunar surface, and by 5:33, it will be done.  All of the stages, from the beginning of partial eclipse, through totality, to the last moment of partial eclipse, are shown in the diagram.

How to View the Eclipse  (No Telescopes Needed - This Event Can Be Viewed at Home)

Lunar eclipses can be viewed from any location where the Moon can be seen - optical aid is not required.  If you're up after midnight on 15 April and the skies are clear, take some time to look outside and follow the progression of the Moon through the Earth's shadow.  The whole eclipse, through its partial and total stages, takes about three and a half hours.  Telescopes or binoculars will enhance the view, but are not necessary.  Make note of how the sky transforms during the eclipse.  As the bright Moon fades, what color do you see?  How many stars are visible during mid-eclipse versus the earlier stages?

Make sure you observe the eclipse on the correct night, though.  This event happens on the morning of 15 April, so to observe it you would stay up past midnight on the night of 14 April, or get up before morning twilight on the 15th.  If you look on the night of the 15th, the Moon will have long moved past Earth's shadow.

Because this eclipse occurs at such an inconvenient hour for the eastern United States, Cline Observatory will not be officially open for public viewing that night.  A trip to an observatory is not necessary to enjoy an eclipse.  You don't even need a telescope or binoculars.  If you can see the Moon, then you can observe the eclipse, no matter what your location.

This is the First of a Series of Lunar Eclipses in 2014-2015

This eclipse is the first of a series of four total lunar eclipses, called a tetrad, that will be visible from North America during 2014-2015.  Each of these will progress in a similar manner, but the appearance of the Moon - whether it might appear blood red or bright orange - may be subtly different for each, depending on the Moon's specific path through the darkest part of Earth's shadow, and the state of Earth's atmosphere during each alignment.

The next dates for the lunar eclipses in this series, each given with the time of maximum eclipse, are given in the table below.  Note that most of the first two will occur in the early morning hours before twilight, the third will be in progress at sunrise, and the fourth will be visible in the evening.

Date of Eclipse
Partial Eclipse Begins
Mid-point of Eclipse
2014 April 15
1:58 a.m. EDT 
2:46 a.m. EDT
2014 October 08
5:14 a.m. EDT 6:55 a.m. EDT
2015 April 04
6:15 a.m. EDT 8:01 a.m. EDT
2015 September 27 
9:07 p.m. EDT 
10:48 p.m. EDT