Easy-to-Watch Lunar Eclipse to Happen Saturday Evening

The first total lunar eclipse in more than two years will wow skywatchers if skies are clear in eastern parts of North America and all of Europe and Africa Saturday evening.

The eclipse will be in progress when the Moon rises in the eastern half of the United States. It will be over before the Moon rises on the West Coast.

The Moon will begin to enter Earth's shadow at 3:18 p.m. ET (20:18 GMT).

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From locations where it is dark at that time, it will appear as though a bite is being taken out of the Moon. At 5:44 p.m. ET, (22:44 GMT) totality begins when the Moon will be fully inside the shadow.

"For North Americans, the farther East you go, the better the view," said Joe Rao, SPACE.com's Skywatching Columnist. "As the Sun sets in the West, the Moon will coming up on the opposite side of the sky in the East.

The Moon is visible because it reflects sunlight. A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth gets directly between the Sun and the Moon.

The Moon often appears orange, coppery or dark red during an eclipse because, as sunlight is scattered through Earth's atmosphere, most of the blue light is absorbed.

Most of the red light gets through, and some of that continues on to the Moon and is reflected back.

This transformation led people in ancient times to fear eclipses. The ancient Chinese thought the Moon was being eaten. The blood red color of some eclipses fit neatly with this explanation.

How to watch

Weather permitting, the spectacle will be easily visible to the naked eye. Binoculars and telescopes can enhance the experience but are not necessary.

"Even with the unaided eye a lunar eclipse is pleasing to watch, but binoculars will certainly improve the view," Rao said.

From the Eastern United States and Canada, the best view will be one that is unobstructed to the East, allowing a clear look at the Moon as it rises.

Totality ends at 6:58 p.m. ET (23:58 GMT). The Moon exits Earth's main shadow, called the umbra, at 8:11 p.m. ET, which correspond to the wee hours of Sunday morning in Europe.

Several webcasts of the eclipse are planned, from the Canary Islands, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

The next total lunar eclipse, Aug. 27, will favor skywatchers in the Western United States.

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