Science

This week's total lunar eclipse is the longest of the century

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July 25 at 11:30 AM

The moon turns an orange hue during a total lunar eclipse in the sky above Phoenix on April 15, 2014. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

The full moon is set to glide through Earth’s shadow on July 27 to create a beautifully red total lunar eclipse for one hour and 43 minutes. This is the longest such eclipse of the young century.

Here in the United States, we’re on the wrong side of the world to see it locally. But thanks to Internet magic, Americans can watch it live on the Weather Channel app (its show starts at 4 p.m.) or on the website Slooh (its members can start watching at 1 p.m.) or on TimeandDate.com starting at 2 p.m. Simone Boyce, new host at the NBC News streaming network, will anchor the digital special “Space Is Awesome” — timed to the lunar eclipse. Find the program on NBCNews.com at 4 p.m. July 27.

Folks in western Africa, parts of Europe, the Middle East and India will only have to look up to the sky to catch the deep-copper-toned totality in person.


A viewing map for the July 27 lunar eclipse.

Lunar eclipses occur only during a full moon, which means the moon and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. In this case, the full moon officially occurs at 4:20 p.m. Eastern time on July 27. Earth casts a shadow opposite from the sun — and the moon can occasionally run through the shadow. As the moon scoots through the shadow, light refracted by Earth gives the moon a reddish tint.

Throughout the Eastern time zone, according to NASA and the U.S. Naval Observatory, the lunar eclipse (penumbral phase) starts at 1:14 p.m. and partiality occurs at 2:24 p.m. Totality starts at 3:30 p.m., with the maximum totality at 4:21 p.m. Totality will end at 5:13 p.m., and the partial eclipse ends at 6:19 p.m. Everything is over by 7:28 p.m. Unfortunately, the moon will not have risen anywhere in the United States for viewing during this window.

But it will put on a great show elsewhere.


Animation of what the lunar eclipse is expected to look like.

“What makes the upcoming one special is that it occurs at nearly the same time as the year’s second-most-distant lunar apogee (the monthly moment when the moon is most distant from Earth) and the moon passes almost smack through the center of Earth’s shadow,” astronomer Geoff Chester of the Naval Observatory said. He continued: “This will make it the longest-duration total lunar eclipse of the century. It’s also cool that [the eclipse] occurs on the night that Mars reaches opposition, so (for people on the other side of the world) you’ll have a red moon six degrees north of the Red Planet.”

Indeed, the planet Mars will be in opposition — opposite from the sun in Earth’s night sky — but close to the moon on July 27. Mars rises at sunset and sets at sunrise, according to Chester.

All eclipses belong to eclipse families called saros. In this case, this eclipse is part of Saros 139, and it is No. 38 in a family of 71 that started June 10, 1351. This saros will last until July 24, 2613, per NASA. While technically this will be the longest eclipse of the century, the two previous lunar eclipses in this series — July 16, 2000 (No. 37, Saros 139) and July 6, 1982 (No. 36, Saros 139) — lasted longer than this one.

In fact, the July 16, 2000, lunar eclipse lasted about three minutes longer. But remember, astronomers count the year 2000 as part of the last century.

Today’s babies and young children may catch the shortest total lunar eclipse in this saros. It comes along on Sept. 8, 2090. There will only be about 32 minutes of totality in that eclipse.

While the United States won’t see this total lunar eclipse live, six months from now, make sure you have mittens, a coat and hot chocolate with marshmallows at the ready. There will be a total lunar eclipse Jan. 20 to 21. The reddish totality will last a delightful 62 minutes. For that one, Chester says, “we’ll have a front-row seat for the whole event.”

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