Butter your toast or toss shrimp on the barbie to enjoy early Saturday morning’s short, total lunar eclipse. This astronomy story has a Hollywood ending with a Down Under twist.
For East Coast sky-gazers hoping to find the lunar eclipse, forget about it. With the sun rising and the moon setting here, your best bet is catching the event live online – see one perspective from Los Angeles or another with an Australian view.
In Saturday’s total lunar eclipse, the totality phase lasts less than 5 minutes, according to NASA and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Totality starts at 4:58 a.m. Pacific time (or 7:58 a.m. Eastern time). The moon turns an orange-red when engulfed completely in Earth’s shadow, as our planet stands between the sun and the moon. The middle of totality occurs at about 5 a.m. Pacific time (8 a.m. Eastern time). Three minutes later, totality finishes and the eclipse enters its second partial phase.
From the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, about 1,134 feet above sea level, the Griffith Observatory presents the eclipse. Find the Griffith Observatory webcast here starting at 2 a.m. Pacific time (5 a.m. Eastern) when the penumbral phase starts. The umbral, or partial, phase – that is when Earth’s shadow bites chunks from the moon – starts at 3:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m. Eastern).
Have a hearty ‘Breakfast on the Moon’
Over at Slooh.com, they’re calling their webcast “Breakfast on the Moon,” where you will see the eclipse from eastern Australia – and from their feed partners from other locations around the Pacific Rim. The Slooh webcast starts at 3 a.m. Pacific time (6 a.m. Eastern) just before the partial, umbral phase.
Conducting the cosmic play-by-play will be host Eric Edelman and astronomer-journalists Bob Berman and Will Gater. Ask them questions via Twitter while they are live by using the hashtag #Breakfasteclipse.
“Total lunar eclipses, like the one we’re looking forward to … are a slow, ethereal affair and, as usual, [Slooh will] have cameras around the world bringing us live views,” Gater said. “What better way to start the day than tuning in to watch this wonderful event.”
All in the family
Over the centuries, eclipses fall into families of related events that astronomers call “saros.” Tomorrow’s total lunar eclipse is part of Saros 132, a series that started on May 12, 1492 (months before Christopher Columbus set sail) and it will end June 26, 2754.
Saturday’s eclipse is the shortest total eclipse in the series, officially clocked at 4 minutes and 43 seconds, according to NASA. The longest total eclipse in this series – a little over a century from now – will be June 9, 2123, at 1 hour, 46 minutes.
The Fab Four
This total lunar eclipse is the third of four-in-a-row, and that – to astronomers – is known as a “tetrad.” Last year, we enjoyed two lunar eclipses on April 15 and Oct. 8. In addition to tomorrow’s eclipse, our next one: Sept. 28, 2015.
Between 1582 and 1908, there were no tetrads, as they are part of a 565-year cycle and they tend to be feast or famine. For this 21st century, we get eight of them. Our previous tetrad occurred in 2003-2004. After this September, the next quartet happens in 2032-2033.
Other eclipse sources: