In principle, there might never have been a better time than early Tuesday for one of the most dramatic displays available of the workings of the heavens: a total eclipse of the moon.
For many in the Washington area, circumstances for watching the great show unfold might seem almost ideal.
By astronomers’ computations, every stage of the total lunar eclipse, from its faintest beginnings through the time of red-tinted totality to its reassuring conclusion, should be visible in Washington.
It is true that the eclipse will occur in the after-midnight hours, during which many people are found abed, preparing for the challenges of the day to come.
But this is a special week, which could cut the drawbacks of burning the midnight oil, so to speak. This is a vacation week, with many, if not all, of the public school systems in the Washington region on spring break.
Additionally, the eclipse occurs on a fateful date, April 15, when federal income tax returns are due.
The Internal Revenue Service said it expects 148 million individual returns to be filed this year, and it has been reported that about one in four are sent in during the last week of tax season.
It seems more than likely that many Americans will be up all night Monday, racing against the clock ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
Even the most harried taxpayer might find a moment to glance upward at one of the most storied of astronomical phenomena.
The eclipse begins with a bright full moon overhead, offering a silvery reflection of the sun’s light.
Then, almost unnoticed at first, it edges into the shadow cast by Earth across the heavens. Earth’s position increasingly prevents the sun’s light from reaching the moon.
The period of totality, in which the dim moon is expected to be tinted by optical effects, is to begin about 3:06 a.m. At 3:45 a.m., the eclipse is at its midpoint, and the period of totality is over about 4:25 a.m.
In theory, all of this should be visible to Washingtonians. Except for one thing, and that is the weather.
It is expected to be overcast, according to the National Weather Service forecast as of late Saturday.
On Monday night and Tuesday morning, according to the forecast, showers may fall.
The clouds, not to mention the rain, may shroud a celestial show for which everything else had fallen into line, including the sun, Earth and moon.