Monday, March 17, 2014


Mars by Etienne Trouvelot 1877
Naked eye astronomers – get ready. In April the Red Planet returns to prime time and the Moon shows us a darker side.

In 2003 Mars was closer to us that it had been for over 60,000 years. For our public viewing we opened at dusk and lines formed at the two telescopes - out the door and down the block. The final person viewed Mars at 4:30 AM. 

Every 26 months Mars reaches its closest point to the Earth and the Martian-loving public whips into a frenzy to take a closer look through our telescopes.  We lovingly call this Marsapalooza

Check with your local observatory, planetarium, science center, or astronomy club to see what events they have scheduled.  At the beginning of the April Mars will appear bright and orange in the eastern sky a little after sunset.  In the middle of the month, Mars is technically closest to us, but you’ll continue to see it every night until the end of the year.  Each day, the Earth will pull a little farther away from it until the next closest approach in May 2016.

Tax Day Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse
During a Total Lunar Eclipse the Sun, Earth, and Moon are in perfect alignment.  The full moon orbits into the shadow of the Earth and turns the lunar surface an eerie shade of orange.  The will occur again on April 15.

You will have to get up early or stay up late to watch this eclipse.  The show begins at about 2 AM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) when you will start to see the rounded shadow of the Earth appear on the disc of the full moon.  Then over the course of an hour, the shadow will cover more and more of the Moon’s surface until the moment when the Moon will be completely in the shadow of the Earth.  This is called totality and it will occur on April 15 from 3:06-4:25 AM EDT. 

During totality the Moon will not disappear but instead turn a different shade.  Astronomers cannot predict what color it will be – pale gray, bright orange, or blood red.  Only the shadow knows!  Some sunlight will still reach the surface of the Moon.  It bends through the Earth’s atmosphere and still dimly gives the Moon some unique mood lighting.  Whatever the color, when you see the total lunar eclipse you are actually seeing all of the sunsets and sunrises of Earth projected onto the Moon. 

After totality ends, you can watch the Earth’s shadow slowly wipe away from the Moon.  The full moon will appear to be its normal bright self again at around 5:30 AM.

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