If you rely on the moonlight for a "night light" when it shines in your window, you might reconsider in the wee hours of Tuesday, April 15. Better yet, plan to get up and take a look at a rare and awesome sight, a total lunar eclipse.
    Those of us in the Eastern Time Zone will see the full Moon start to enter the Earth's main shadow at 1:58 a.m. A small "bite" will appear on the right side. This "bite" will grow, making the Moon appear as a crescent, until the complete, total eclipse begins at 3:07 a.m. From then until 4:25 a.m. the Moon will be fully immersed in the shadow, dimmed in a strange, red light.
   Partial eclipse then resumes as the moon gradually slips out of the shadow, until 5:33 a.m.
   Look for the Moon in the western sky. Further down in the sky will be the planet Mars, which is currently very bright and shining red-orange. The spectacle of Mars and the reddened Moon should be interesting, although Mars may not be visible depending if you have any hills or other obstructions. The planet, being lower in the western sky than the Moon, will set first.
   Look for the bright Moon passing near Mars and the bright star Spica the evening of April 14.
   How dark and how red the Moon gets during a total lunar eclipse varies from one eclipse to the next. The factors depend on how close to the center of the Earth's shadow the Moon passes, and weather conditions on Earth. The redness occurs from sunlight passing all around the edge or circumference of the Earth, as seen from the Moon. What an astronaut on the Moon would be seeing, gazing back at the Earth during an eclipse is a fiery ring in the starry sky. That red light is the combination of sunsets and sunrises all around the world at the same time.
    If there is an unusual amount of dust in the atmosphere, from a volcanic eruption or forest fires, the sunlight will be further reddened.
   Witnessing a lunar eclipse you can at once see that the Earth is round. The shadow of our globe is seen to be round, as the Moon passes in and out of the curved shadow. The main shadow, or umbra, tapers far back into space like a cone. There is also a faint shadow around the umbra called the penumbra. You may be able to first detect the slight shading of the penumbra around 1:30 a.m.
    All you need are your eyes and a clear night to enjoy the eclipse. There is no danger to your eyes, as at a solar eclipse. The view in binoculars is stunning. Notice how the sky darkens and the stars come out, that would normally be hidden on a bright moonlit night.
   This year we have not one but two lunar eclipses visible in North America; the next is on October 8.
    Send your comments and even photos of the eclipse to news@neagle.com.
    Keep looking up!