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Shadow on the Moon

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Week of March 29 — April 4, 2015

Late on the afternoon of April 3, watch as the sun sets behind the western horizon, and then face the opposite direction. You'll soon spot the moon rising above the eastern horizon.

On that night, the moon's phase is full and regular readers of this column already know that the full moon does everything opposite our sun. When the sun sets, the full moon rises, and when the sun rises, the full moon sets — also on the opposite side of the sky.

Perhaps you've never considered watching the full moon set before, but this might be the time to set your alarm to do so. Why? Because on the morning of April 4, the moon will be undergoing one of nature's great sky shows ... a total eclipse.

On that morning, all sky watchers throughout North America will see the lunar eclipse — weather permitting, of course — but depending on where you live, you may see only a tiny fraction of the sky show, or you might see it all. In fact, the farther west you live, the more of the eclipse you can expect to see before the moon sets.

For viewers on the west coast, the eclipse will appear in the western sky; for those on the east coast, the moon will be setting during the early phases. For viewers between the coasts, the moon will set during different stages of the eclipse.

The celestial cover-up begins at 3:16 a.m. PDT (6:16 a.m. EDT) when the moon officially begins its journey into dark, inner shadow of the Earth (the umbra).

The moon becomes totally eclipsed at 4:59 a.m. PDT (5:59 MDT). During totality, the moon may take on strange coppery hue and, for viewers under a clear dark sky, will appear to hang beautifully against the stars of the morning sky. Totality officially lasts only until 5:03 a.m. PDT (6:03 a.m. MDT) when the moon's eastern edge once again emerges into bright sunlight.

During totality, the moon will most likely take on strange coppery hue and, for viewers under a clear, dark sky, will appear to hang eerily among the beautiful stars of autumn. This coppery color occurs because sunlight passing through our atmosphere is reddened and bent inward toward the darkened surface of the totally eclipsed moon.

Now, the umbral shadow continues to retreat westward across the lunar face, leaving it completely at 6:45 a.m. PDT when, depending on your location, the moon may have already set.

Unlike an eclipse of the sun, a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to view without protective filters. All you need is your eyes, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may find viewing through them to be even more enjoyable.

To discover if anyone in your area might be hosting a free lunar-eclipse viewing party, check with your local planetarium, college or amateur astronomy club. And to learn more about lunar eclipses, visit: mreclipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html

If clouds should block our view of this total lunar eclipse — or if you live in a place where the eclipse is not visible above your horizon, you'll a few months for the next one on the night of Sept. 27.

Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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