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SKY REPORTER: Mars Shines Brightly While the Moon Winks

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A lunar eclipse from September 11, 2003.


If the sky is clear during early morning hours of Tuesday April 15th, viewers in the Eastern Time zone will see the Full Moon enter Earth’s umbral shadow at 1:58 am, with the total eclipse beginning at 3:07 a.m. and ending at 4:25 a.m. The partial phase concludes at 5:33 a.m. At the time of maximum eclipse, 3:46 a.m., the Moon will be a quarter of the way from horizon to zenith in our southwestern sky.

Aspects of this eclipse that make it especially worthwhile staying awake for include the Moon’s dramatic proximity to Mars—at mid-eclipse the pair has just nine degrees of separation, equivalent to the width of your fist seen at arm’s length.

By coincidence that night, Mars will be the brightest it’s been since 2007 and won’t be as bright again until 2016. Spica, most vivid star in Virgo, may be seen even closer to the Moon, just a degree and a half from the lunar edge.

As you watch these three objects apparently so close, in 3-D it’s a very different story. Light from the Moon takes just over one second to reach us, reflected sunlight from Mars requires four minutes to travel to Earth, and light you see from twinkling Spica left that star when George Washington was a teenager.

Before partial phase begins that night, Mars and Spica are nearly overwhelmed by brilliant Moon light but as the eclipse progresses the red planet and white star become increasingly easier to see. After totality ends they will again seem to fade in contrast to the brightening Moon.

Total eclipses, in fact, seldom totally darken the lunar disk. Some sunlight usually is refracted through Earth’s atmosphere around a ring of sunrises and sunsets causing the eclipsed Moon to appear reddish-orange. Everyone on Earth where the moon is above the horizon at night may simultaneously view the progression of eclipse phases, weather permitting, albeit at varied local times.

And, we don’t have to wait long for the next total eclipse of the moon, it will be October 8th.

 

Lunar Phases, April 2014
First Quarter April 7
Full Moon April 15
Last Quarter April 22
New Moon April 29

 

Planets

 

In April, Mercury is too close to the Sun’s direction for casual observation. Venus is in the early morning sky and will be near the waning crescent moon on Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th. Mars is in Virgo and is currently the brightest it's been for the past five years. It is on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun on Tuesday the 8th when Mars rises around sunset. The red planet is closest to Earth and brightest on the 14th—about 57,447,000 miles from us. (See more about the opposition of Mars.)  Jupiter remains prominent in the southwestern sky from evening until early morning hours. The waxing moon passes within six degrees of Jupiter on the night of April 6th. On Thursday evening April 17th the moon will be one degree of arc, about two lunar diameters from Saturn.

Planets for April 15th
Mercury  Rises 6:00 a.m. Aquarius
Venus  Rises 4:34 a.m. Capricorn
Mars Rises 6:35 p.m. Virgo
Jupiter Sets 1:48 a.m. Gemini
Saturn Rises 9:33 p.m. Libra
Uranus Rises 5:48 a.m. Pisces
Neptune Rises 4:28 a.m. Aquarius

 

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