Behold! The Earth will rockblock the Moon from basking in sunshine for five minutes tonight. The islands in the Pacific will have the best view of the brief Earth Moon Shadow, but most of North America will see it, too, if you crawl out of bed early enough, but it's Saturday morning, and you won't do that.
Most people call it a "total lunar eclipse," but around here we call it what it really is: the Earth Moon Shadow. Every once and a while, the Earth and the Moon line up just right so that one casts a shadow on the other. In this instance, the Earth is moving in between the Sun and the Moon, casting the Earth's shadow on the lunar surface.
Tonight's Earth Moon Shadow will only cover the Moon in totality for five minutes, leading to this eclipse being touted as "the shortest of the century" in The News. Quick! Crawl out of bed to watch the shortest eclipse of the century! Staring at a shadow in the sky because it's the fastest one you'll see before you croak is a perfectly legitimate reason to watch the eclipse according to The News, because you can't just look at the Earth Moon Shadow because it's cool or interesting. There has to be an exciting, action-packed reason for you to watch it.
According to NASA, the Pacific Ocean and surrounding coasts and islands are in line to see the full Earth Moon Shadow, giving those lucky jerks in Hawaii something else to rub in our mainland faces.
The total Earth Moon Shadow will peak at 4:58 AM Pacific Daylight Time, with the best view on the West Coast, gradually getting less shadowy the farther east you get. Those of us on the East Coast not shrouded in cloud cover will catch some of the eclipse before sunrise, but unless you're super-stoked for the SHORTEST ECLIPSE OF THE CENTURY (!!!!!!), you're just fine sleeping though it. You'll see enough pictures of it on Facebook tomorrow.
Unfortunately, clouds will obscure most of the Earth Moon Shadow for those of us east of the Mississippi River, but if you're west of the Mississippi and don't live in the Pacific Northwest, you should have a pretty good view of the event as it unfolds. On the above forecast map from the National Weather Service, gray indicates cloud cover while blue shows clear skies. The forecast is valid for 5:00 AM EDT.
The Moon is painted a rusty red color during Earth Moon Shadows due to light traveling straight through the length of the Earth's atmosphere. The sky appears blue because the gases in our atmosphere scatter the shortest wavelengths, which happen to be blue. When the sun dips low on the horizon, its light has to travel through more of the atmosphere to reach you, allowing the longer reds and yellows to fill the sky in a brilliant sunset. It's for this reason—light filtering through the Earth's atmosphere—that the Earth Moon Shadow appears a rusty, bloody red on the lunar surface.
The next total Earth Moon Shadow in the United States will be visible over the eastern half of the country on September 28, 2015. An even more exciting event—a total Moon Earth Shadow—will sweep across the United States during the day on August 21, 2017. Mark your calendars now.
[Images: AP, NASA, NWS]