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Total Lunar Eclipses in 2015

The year 2015 is graced with two total lunar eclipses. The readily visible portion of any lunar eclipse occurs when the sun is in the darker of two shadows, or umbra, cast by the earth. Discerning when earth enters the fainter outer shadow, or penumbra, is difficult for most observers, especially with light-polluted skies, so I don't usually tout those times. You can demonstrate those two shadows with the simple Lunar Eclipse Activity.

An illustrated video from California Academy of Science explains why eclipses occur and what causes that reddish hue (spoiler alert: think of all of the people experiencing sunrise or sunset at that moment).

April 4

As seen from South Bend, IN, on Saturday, April 4, the moon enters the darker umbra at 6:15 a.m. EDT, when the moon is only about 12 degrees above the western horizon. Over the next hour-plus the reddish tint encroaches increasingly across the moon's surface. Because the eclipse occurs so close to sunrise, however, morning twilight soon washes out some of the color even though you can see the curve of round earth's shadow. The moon marches onward toward the horizon, disappearing in the west shortly afer the sun rises at 7:23 a.m. in the east. This makes sense, as the sun and full moon are in opposite directions during a lunar eclipse. The eclipse will be live-streamed by the Griffith Observatory.

September 27

Ahhh, now this is a more favorable eclipse for observers near the Great Lakes. The full moon is almost two fists high above the eastern horizon when that darker umbral lunar eclipse begins at 9:07 p.m. EDT. From there the moon continues to rise and the reddish shadow grows. The total lunar eclipse lasts over an hour, from 10:11 p.m. until 11:23 p.m. Then, the reddish shadow and the moon's phase itself are on the wane, until at 12:27 a.m. on Sept. 28 the main (umbral) show is over.

If you're an early riser and have a clear western horizon, take a peek at the April 4 eclipse. For me, though, I'm marking my calendar and making plans for clear skies and a lunar spectacle on September 27, 2015, during the more favorable nighttime hours.

Note: for local times for sun and moon events, see and set it for your location.

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