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Total Lunar Eclipse (red moon) seen from Baker Creek, Banff National Park in 2019.
Credit – Jakub Fryš, CC SA 4.0.

A total lunar eclipse will grace the night skies Sunday night, providing viewers in North and South America a chance to experience some heavenly wonder as Earth’s shadow covers the moon during prime viewing hours.

CBC Canada is reporting this is the first total lunar eclipse of the year and the first since last May. The best part is that not only will it be visible across all of Canada, but also North America and South America.

“For pretty much all of North America, this is a tremendous viewing opportunity,” said Madhulika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md, according to the New York Times.

During prime viewing hours on the night of May 15, people on the East Coast can watch our natural satellite start to turn an eerie copper-red color at around 11:30 p.m. Eastern time during one of the longest lunar eclipses in recent memory.

Joseph Rao, an associate astronomer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York, estimates that some 2.7 billion people should be able to catch at least part of the eclipse. This is because the eclipse will be visible to a large portion of the world, including those in the Americas, much of Europe and Africa, and parts of the Pacific.

But if you miss tonight’s event, there’ll be another lengthy total lunar eclipse in November, with Africa and Europe lucking out again, but not the Americas. Then the next one isn’t until 2025.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm9Ex-rKpGU

What is a lunar eclipse?

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun. Usually, we see a full moon when this happens, but every so often the moon enters the Earth’s shadow, resulting in an eclipse. Lunar eclipses are visible from the entire night side of the Earth, and tonight’s eclipse will last about five hours from start to finish. 

Tonight’s lunar eclipse is called the Super Flower Blood Moon because the full moon is occurring near its perigee, or closest point to Earth in its orbit, for the month, garnering it a “supermoon” nickname. 

The name “blood moon” is not as scary as it may sound. It is more a trick of the light. While it has no special astronomical significance, the view in the sky is striking as the usually white-colored moon becomes red or ruddy-brown.

Actually, a supermoon occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its orbit. Supermoons make the moon appear a little brighter and closer than normal, although it is hard to spot the difference in size. 

Partial Lunar Eclipse on January 31, 2018, taken at Riverside Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.
Source – Stephen Rahn from Macon, GA, Public Domain

What time does the lunar eclipse begin?

Depending on your location, a partial lunar eclipse begins on May 15 at 10:28 p.m. EDT (0228 GMT on May 16). The Blood Moon will reach its peak at 12:11 a.m. EDT (0411 GMT) on May 16 before the lunar eclipse ends at 1:55 a.m. EDT (0555 GMT). The penumbral moon phase of the eclipse will begin about an hour earlier and end about an hour after the partial eclipse, according to TimeandDate.com.

No fancy equipment is needed to view the otherworldly spectacle. If the weather is clear, just look up and locate the moon at night.

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