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The early bird gets the lunar eclipse-maybe

Images of the partial phase of the October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse, taken at 2.5-minute intervals. Credit: Joe Pedit.
Images of the partial phase of the October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse, taken at 2.5-minute intervals. Credit: Joe Pedit.

BY AMY SAYLE

On the morning of April 4, 2015, the full moon will pass into Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse

For those of us in the eastern United States who’d like to view this eclipse, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is for the early birds. Are you up by 6:15 a.m.? On Saturdays, too? Then you can view the beginning of this lunar eclipse without losing sleep.

The bad news is the beginning of the eclipse -- when the Moon is only partially covered by Earth’s umbral (inner) shadow -- is all that those of us in the eastern U.S. get to see. The Moon will vanish below our horizon before the total eclipse starts.

Worse, seeing even the partial eclipse may be challenging. The Moon will be quite low in the western sky for us, meaning that trees and buildings can easily block the view.

But the eclipse is worth trying to see, especially if you’re already awake anyway. The part of the Moon in Earth’s umbral shadow will likely be an interesting reddish color

You can console yourself about missing the total part of the eclipse by noting it’s unusually short, with totality lasting just a few minutes. 

Viewing tips:

  • Check the forecast before you go to bed on Friday, April 3, to make sure your eclipse viewing the next morning won’t be a cloud or rain viewing instead.
  • Find an unobstructed view to the west, away from buildings and trees. Looking across a lake or even just a parking lot or road can help a lot. Remember that for eastern U.S. viewers, the Moon will be low in the west when the eclipse begins. And the Moon only drops lower in the sky as the eclipse progresses and dawn brightens. 
  • Lunar eclipses are completely safe to look at. You can use just your eyes to look at the Moon, or look at it through binoculars or a telescope. 
  • The partial eclipse begins at 6:16 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, April 4, 2015. Don’t wait too long after that to start viewing because once the Moon sets for where you live, your view of the eclipse is over. 

For Chapel Hill, moonset on April 4th will be about 7 a.m., but remember that you’ll lose sight of the Moon before then if trees, hills, or buildings are in the way.

For those viewing more to the east, your moonset is even earlier (sorry). For those in western North Carolina, though, your moonset is later. You can check your local moonset time at the U.S. Naval Observatory’s site

If you miss this eclipse, there’s another chance this fall. On September 27, 2015, the Moon once again passes into Earth’s shadow. 

The eastern U.S. will have a great view of that lunar eclipse, with the total phase of the eclipse lasting from 10:11 to 11:23 p.m. Eastern time, and with the Moon well placed in the sky. Morehead will plan a skywatching session for that eclipse.