Get ready to look up in the night sky very soon, because you're in for a real treat. There will be a total lunar eclipse on the night of Monday, April 14th, and folks living in the United States, Canada, and parts of Central and South America will be able to see the moon turn a dark blood-red shade for a little over an hour. This will be the first in a series of four total eclipses that are to happen over the next two years.
All total lunar eclipses are Blood Moons, and its red color is due to the Earth's atmosphere. When the light from the sun passes through, the shorter wavelengths are scattered by the air molecules, so only the longer ones get through. Red has the longest wavelengths of any color in the visible spectrum, so we perceive the light as being red.
This refraction of sunlight around Earth is funneled into a cone-like shape behind it called the umbra, and when the moon passes into the amber-colored umbra zone, it gives the appearance of a moon drowned in blood.
This particular astronomical event has been the subject of many rumors. Some Christians believe it signifies the End Times. In the Bible, Joel, 2:31 says that "the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come."
While they may sound rare, lunar eclipses happens about twice every year, and they can be either a penumbral, partial, or total eclipse. There is no specific order for when which one will happen, but every now and then you'll get a series of four consecutive total eclipses in a row, which is called a tetrad.
The frequency at which they occur varies over time, sometimes disappearing altogether for stretches of several hundred years. In the 21st century, there will be a total of nine sets of tetrad total eclipses of the moon, so it is relatively common. However, from 1600 to 1900, there were zero tetrad sets.
The total lunar eclipse will start around 9:55pm (PDT) on Monday, with the moon starting to turn red just after midnight. The best time to see the Blood Moon is around 12:46am (PDT) on Tuesday, or 3:46am (EDT). For charts like the one below on your specific time zone, check out MrEclipse's website.
The following three eclipses in the series will be on October 8th of this year, then on April 4th and September 28th of 2015—so mark your calendars.
Unlike a solar eclipse, you won't need any special glasses or other equipment to see. The Blood Moon will be perfectly visible with the naked eye. If you have a telescope, you can take some great pictures using an easy DIY mount for your smartphone. If you're using an actual camera, check out some of NASA's tips for photographing eclipses.
Will you be watching the eclipse this week? Be sure to share your experience and photos with us in the comments, or over on the Inspiration board.
Blood moon images via NASA