Monday night’s total lunar eclipse, combined with the closest approach
of Mars left many skywatchers in awe.
By Tariq Malik
The moon took on an eerie blood-red hue early Tuesday during the first
total lunar eclipse of 2014, a celestial sight that wowed potentially
millions of stargazers across North and South America.
The total lunar eclipse of April 15 lasted about 3.5 hours between
late Monday and early Tuesday, with the Earth’s shadow slowly
darkening the face of the so-called “Blood Moon” in a jaw-dropping
sight for stargazers willing to stay up extra late or rise super-early
for the event.
“Definitely worth the early wake-up call,” skywatcher Brett Bonine of
Arkansas said in an email.
The lunar eclipse peaked at midnight EDT, with the moon taking 78
minutes to pass through the darkest point of Earth’s shadow. It was
visible from most of North and South America, Hawaii and parts of
Alaska. The eclipse was the first of four consecutive total lunar
eclipses, known as a “tetrad,” between April 2014 and September 2015.
Astronomer Bob Berman, who hosted a live lunar eclipse webcast for the
Slooh community telescope using views from Arizona’s Prescott
Observatory, said the event was also one for the record books because
of another bright object in the predawn sky.
“It was the most special one, I would say, of our lives,” Berman said
during the Slooh webcast. “What made it particularly extraordinary was
that it happened on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to
Earth in years.”
Mars made its closest approach to Earth since 2008 on Monday night
(April 14), coming within 57.4 million miles of our planet.
So the Red Planet and the “Blood Moon” shined together in the predawn
sky in a rare event, Berman said, adding that the bright blue star
Spica completed the show.
“We’ll never again for the rest of our lives see a total eclipse of
the moon on the same night as the closest approach of a bright planet
like Mars,” Berman said.
Space.com was flooded with lunar eclipse photos taken by excited
observers from across the United States, with images coming in from
Hawaii, Puerto Rico and even a Disney Fantasy cruise ship in the Gulf
While heavy cloud cover and rain threatened to spoil the total lunar
eclipse for observers in the eastern United States, stargazers in the
central and western United States got a good lunar show. In addition
to the Slooh webcast, several other groups streamed live views of the
The University of Arizona’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at the Steward
Observatory atop Mt. Lemmon in Arizona streamed spectacular telescope
views of the eclipse from its start to finish. NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center in Alabama teamed up with the iconic Griffith
Observatory in Los Angeles, Calif., to offer another view.
NASA is also keeping close watch on two solar-powered spacecraft
currently orbiting the moon. The lack of sunlight on the moon during
the eclipse was expected to starve NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
and LADEE moon dust probe, both of which are solar powered.
Meanwhile, the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy (where the
eclipse was not visible) streamed live views of spectacular eclipse
photos by astrophotgraphers across the United States. In South
America, the Gloria Project held a live webcast at the Incan ruins of
Cusco, Peru to mark the event.
Photographer Tyler Leavitt of Las Vegas, Nevada, captured a stunning
series of images showing the moon slowly waltz into Earth’s shadow,
then take on its iconic blood-red hue. Leavitt took the photos from
his front driveway between 11:30 p.m. and 1:20 a.m. PDT, and he was
“It was nice to see several of the neighbors coming out to take a look
also,” Leavitt said in an email.
Lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full and passes through part or
all of the Earth’s shadow. Total lunar eclipses happen when the moon
is totally enveloped by Earth’s shadow, darkening the face of the
moon. Because the moon’s orbit is tilted, it does not perfectly align
with Earth and the sun every month so lunar
Later this month, from April 28 to April 29, the sun will turn into a
“ring of fire” during an annular eclipse. It’s possible, however, that
the celestial sight will only be visible for penguins. The solar
eclipse’s totality will only be visible over an uninhabited part of
Antarctica. This year’s total lunar eclipses and solar eclipses are
among the most promising stargazing events of 2014.
The next total lunar eclipse of 2014 will occur on Oct. 8, followed by
another on April 8, 2015 and the last total lunar eclipse of the
current tetrad on Sept. 28, 2015.