Lunar surface will change from gray, to orange, to a deep crimson as Earth passes between the moon and sun in the predawn hours.
Stargazers across North America will tonight get the chance to see the moon literally change color before their eyes during a total eclipse, as the Earth's shadow will pass across the lunar surface and turn it from gray, to orange, and then, finally, to blood red.
The haunting display comes courtesy of our atmosphere, which will filter out blue light as it traverses between the moon and sun starting at 1:33 a.m. EST Tuesday morning—allowing only orange and red wavelengths to reach the moon and bounce back to Earthbound observers.
The event should culminate around 2:41 a.m. EST Tuesday, with the moon a deep crimson before it starts to slowly revert back to its usual cold, pale face after about 72 minutes in total eclipse. Some aspects of the event will also be visible to viewers in Western Europe and Asia, but North America is best positioned for viewing.
"It's perfectly placed so that all of North America can see it," said Fred Espenak, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, according to the AP.
No special equipment is needed to view the eclipse, and, unlike a solar eclipse, it can be seen safely with the naked eyes. As a bonus, tonight's eclipse will be made more visible by the fact that it's occurring on the winter solstice—the one night of the year when the moon is highest in the sky.
That a total lunar eclipse is coinciding with the winter solstice is just a coincidence, according to NASA, though the superstitious might say otherwise.
Staying up until the wee hours will no doubt be taxing for workers that need to rise early Tuesday, but it may be worth it. The next total lunar eclipse is not expected to be fully visible from North America until April 15, 2014.
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