A full lunar eclipse is not nearly as rare as a solar eclipse, but the event still draws eyes to the heavens. This month people in the Earth’s western hemisphere will get to see the moon at its most impressive.
Early on the morning of April 15 the moon, Earth, and the sun will be perfectly in alignment. From Earth’s perspective this will cast the Earth’s shadow across the moon’s surface – a total lunar eclipse. The moon will appear to be cast in an orange light, creating the state known as a “blood moon.”
The event will be particularly scenic in North America, where this will be the last full lunar eclipse until the year 2019. The eclipse is scheduled to start at around 2 am EDT and will last for three hours.
“Sometimes they’ll happen and you’ll have to be somewhere else on Earth to see them,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA‘s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. “Most [residents] of the continental United States will be able to see the whole thing.”
Though the event will be a sight to see from Earth, Petro and his colleagues will be keeping careful watch on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Since the LRO relies on solar power to charge its batteries, the eclipse will mean the probe will be running without sunlight for an extended period.
The LRO has, of course, made it through lunar eclipses in the past. This time, however, the probe will have to make two complete passes through the Earth’s shadow before the event is over. Even so, Petro predicts that the LRO will make it through unscathed.
“For quite a while, people in LRO have been analyzing what’s going to happen during this eclipse,” said Petro. “The spacecraft will be going straight from the moon’s shadow to the Earth’s shadow while it orbits during the eclipse.
“We’re taking precautions to make sure everything is fine. We’re turning off the instruments and will monitor the spacecraft every few hours when it’s visible from Earth.”
Image via NASA