The longest total lunar eclipse since July 2000 will occur on Wednesday, June 15. The period when Earth's shadow completely blocks the moon will last 1 hour and 40 minutes much to the delight of sky-watchers everywhere ... well, almost everywhere. This amazing celestial event will not be visible from North America -- what gives?
The eclipse will begin at 1:24 p.m. EST and last until 7 p.m. EST; these are obviously the hours before moonrise here in the United States (and Canada), which is why it won't be visible to us. The prime locations for total lunar eclipse viewing actually are: the eastern half of Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, and western Australia. Observers throughout Europe will miss the early stages of the eclipse because they occur before moonrise.
So what exactly are we missing anyway?
At least twice a year, the moon passes through the shadow cast by the Earth causing it to look unusual for a short (or in this case, longer) period of time. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye. Here's what observers will see from Earth:
The moon will appear to darken and then turn a deep shade of red; according to NASA, this happens when indirect sunlight still reaches the moon (despite the moon being in the Earth's shadow) after passing through the Earth's atmosphere, which scatters blue light. Afterward, the moon will return to its normal color and resume its ordinary phase cycle. The total eclipse phase is longer this year because the moon will pass close to the center of the Earth's shadow.
This video is particularly helpful in terms of explaining what exactly happens during a total lunar eclipse:
Looks pretty awesome, right?
Unfortunately, we Americans will have to make due with this video: The next total lunar eclipse isn't until April 15, 2014.
Image via ForsterFoto/Flickr