It's time to hunt a red moon in October.
On the evening of Oct. 27, North America will enjoy a total lunar eclipse, according to Fred Espenak, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
If conditions are right, the moon -- when fully immersed in the Earth's shadow -- should be red.
"Since there has not been much volcanic activity and thus not much volcanic dust in the atmosphere, I guess we would see a deep red lunar eclipse," he says.
Lunar eclipses, safe and fun to watch with the naked eye, occur when the Earth stands directly between the sun and the moon.
Earth's shadow is shaped like a cone, and the moon passes right through it.
The lunar eclipse begins the evening of Oct. 27 in Washington. So look to the east to find the full moon -- appropriately nicknamed the hunter's moon -- ascending the horizon. At 8:05 p.m., the lunar eclipse starts the penumbral phase when the moon enters the outer portion of Earth's shadow. At 9:14 p.m., the eclipse moves into the umbral phase as the moon enters the central part of Earth's cone-shaped shadow.
Observers should begin to see an arc of darkness begin to creep from left to right across the moon's disk. The total phase -- when the moon is completely bathed in Earth's center shadow -- begins at 10:23 p.m. and lasts until 11:44 p.m. Officially, according to Espenak, the height of totality is 11:04 p.m.
As the moon glides through our planet's shadow, the eclipse goes from totality back to partiality. The second partial phase ends at 12:53 a.m. Oct. 28, and the moon officially leaves the penumbral shadow at 2:02 a.m.
Catch this eclipse while you can. The next lunar eclipse visible in the east will be March 3, 2007. The next eclipse with favorable viewing conditions for the east will be in February 2008.
For more eclipse detail, visit sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html.
Venus (negative fourth magnitude, very bright) is high above the east-southeastern horizon in the hours before dawn in October, while Saturn (zero magnitude, bright) rises in the wee hours in the east-northeast early in the month. Saturn rises earlier as the month continues.
Late in the month, Jupiter (negative first magnitude, bright) moves away from the sun and ascends the morning sky before dawn. Jupiter and Venus prepare for an early November conjunction.
* Oct. 2 -- National Capital Astronomers will hold meet at the University of Maryland's observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
* Oct. 4 -- "The Stars Tonight," Arlington Planetarium, adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for children and seniors. 703-228-6070.
* Oct. 5 -- The University of Maryland's observatory in College Park hosts an open house. Telescope viewing, weather permitting. 9 p.m. 301-405-6555; www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
* Oct. 10 -- Learn about cosmic life cycles from Harold Geller, a George Mason University astronomer, in his talk at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. Enterprise Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax. 7 p.m. www.novac.com.
* Oct. 16 -- The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club presents its 22nd annual "Star Gaze" at C.M. Crockett Park, Midland, Fauquier County. Talks and demonstrations begin at 3 p.m., and the public can stay until 11 p.m. to enjoy the heavens through telescopes and binoculars. www.novac.com/gaze/.
* Oct. 16 -- Find out how polarization sundials once helped in ocean navigation, at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. 301-650-1463; www.mc.cc.md.us/departments/planet.
* Oct. 16 -- The National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service host "Exploring the Sky" at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center, in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW, 7:30 p.m. 202-895-6070; capitalastronomers.org.
* Oct. 20 -- Astronomy open house, the University of Maryland observatory, College Park. Telescopic views after the lecture, weather permitting. 9 p.m. 301-405-6555; www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
* Oct. 27 -- Learn about "The Real Occult: Lunar and Solar Eclipses" at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. After the presentation, see the real lunar eclipse. 7 p.m. 301-650-1463; www.mc.cc.md.us/departments/planet.
* The Cowboy Astronomer -- The Arlington Planetarium presents western-style stargazing each weekend, Oct. 15 to Nov. 21. Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoons at 1:30 and 3 p.m. The planetarium is adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. Tickets $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for children and seniors. 703-228-6070.
Blaine Friedlander can be reached at email@example.com.