Skywatch: Total lunar eclipse set for morning of April 15

March 29

Wake up early or stay up late: If skies are clear, you could see the bright full moon turn a reddish hue during a total lunar eclipse early on the morning of April 15.

Lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye. Fred Espenak, astronomer and noted eclipse expert (MrEclipse.com) says the eclipse could take on “a dramatically colorful appearance, ranging from bright orange to blood red.”

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth quite literally sits between the sun and the moon, blocking sunlight from reaching the usually radiant full moon. Look to the southern sky. The first partial eclipse phase starts at 1:58 a.m., when the moon enters Earth’s umbral shadow.

In the southwestern sky, the total eclipse phase begins at 3:07 a.m., with the middle of totality at 3:36 a.m., according to Espenak. Totality ends at 4:25 a.m., when the moon perches on the shadowy umbral-penumbral fence. That’s the second partial eclipse phase, and it ends at 5:33 a.m. Totality will last about 77 minutes.

Next to the moon, you might spy Spica, a first-magnitude star in the constellation Virgo. The bright reddish Mars hangs to the right of the moon.

This eclipse represents the first of four total lunar eclipses in a row.That kind of series is known as a tetrad — with the next three occurring Oct. 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and Sept. 28, 2015. Tetrads happen occasionally, as we’ll see only eight in this century. Our last tetrad was in 2004 and our next will be in 2032-33.

April nights open with Jupiter high in the west-southwest (Gemini constellation) at a bright -2.2 magnitude. Mars (-1.4 magnitude, bright) ascends around 9 p.m. Up all night, it reaches opposition April 8. Saturn (zero magnitude, bright) follows Mars, rising in the east-southeast around 10:40 p.m. now. Venus (-4.3 magnitude, very bright) reigns in the eastern morning sky, an hour or so before sunrise.

Down-to-Earth events:

Wednesday – “Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space” celebrates a new, temporary exhibit with a panel talk by Felix Baumgartner, the parachutist who jumped Oct. 14, 2012, in a supersonic free fall from Earth’s upper stratosphere and landed in Roswell, N.M.; previous altitude record-holder Joe Kittinger (1960); and jump director Art Thompson. Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum, the Mall. (Webcast available.) 7 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.

Saturday – “The Thirty Meter Telescope: The Next Generation of Ground-Based Telescope,” a talk by astronomer Warren Skidmore, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

Saturday – “Exploring the Sky.” See planets, stars and nebulae live from the heart of Washington. Hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers. At Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 8:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.

April 7 – “Stars Tonight,” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 7:30 p.m. $3. friendsoftheplanetarium.org.

April 8 – “Solar Science at Skylab’s Launch,” a talk by Karl Hufbauer, history professor emeritus, University of California at Irvine. At Lockheed Martin Imax Theater. National Air and Space Museum, the Mall. 8 p.m. (Webcast available.) airandspace.si.edu.

April 11 – “Understanding the Quantum Universe: Mysteries of Massive and (Almost) Massless Particles,” a lecture by Nigel Lockyer, director, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Hosted by the Philosophical Society of Washington at the John Wesley Powell Auditorium, adjacent to the Cosmos Club, 2170 Florida Ave. NW. 8:15 p.m. www.philsoc.org.

April 12 – Astronomy, a Super Science Saturday event, demonstrations and hands-on activities throughout the Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly. Parking $15. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. airandspace.si.edu.

April 12 — Henrique Schmitt of the Naval Research Laboratory explains the study of star structure and talks about using geostationary satellites for cosmic observation. At the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.

April 19 – “Quantum Gravity or How C, G and H Create the Fabric of Reality,” a presentation at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/.

April 20 — “Asteroid Hazards: Not as Seen on TV,” a talk by visiting professor Tom Statler at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Telescope viewing after, weather permitting. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

April 22 – “Old Moon, New Moon,” a talk on mapping our lunar neighbor, crust to core, by Maria Zuber, geophysicist and vice president of research at MIT, at the Carnegie Institution for Science, auditorium, 1530 P St. NW (corner of 16th and P streets). 6:45 p.m. carnegiescience.edu.

April 26 – Tour the night sky far from city lights as astronomers from the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club join Sean O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum. At Sky Meadows State Park near Paris, Va. Parking $5. Arrive before dark. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Park phone: 540-592-3556. dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/sky-meadows.shtml.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at postskywatch@gmail.com.

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