Call it an eerie Halloween omen or not, the lunar eclipse over Cypress yesterday morning was a rare astronomical sight.
The early-morning eclipse began at 2:14 am Wednesday morning and lasted until about 6 am. Classified as a total lunar eclipse, it was caused by the Sun and Moon being on directly opposite sides of the Earth. The light from the Sun against the Earth projects onto the lunar surface, causing the moon to light up.
Though these eclipses usually occur a couple times a year, the dark red eclipse seen Wednesday morning was a much rarer occasion. According to the NASA eclipse website eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov, the moon usually only picks up the captivating orange-red hue around every 2 to 3 years.
These aptly named “blood moons” are actually caused by the reflection of sun light coming over the Earth and being projected on the moon. As the light travels over the Earth’s atmosphere, it picks up certain pigments of light that are then visible on the moon’s surface. This gives the moon the distinct red color seen during the event.
Astronomy Professor Dr. Ron Armale described the lunar eclipse simply as “the Earth and the Moon put on a really big show.” He stated although we enjoy the eclipse for entertainment in modern times, “our primitive ancestors thought it was a sign from the Gods.”
As for advice for viewing an eclipse, Armale offered three tips: “Make a cup of hot chocolate, find a comfortable chair, and most importantly, don’t miss it.” For an event that occurs before the Sun comes, his last tip is his hardest to follow for most.
The amateur astronomers who were willing to wake up early were treated to the amazing sight, even without any special equipment. Gregory Jones, a Cypress College student, said he came outside to photograph the moon with only his IPhone “I actually got some pretty good pictures” he said, “the hardest part was getting out of bed.”
The moon reached its peak eclipse level at around 3:30 am, illuminating the many deep craters on its surface to the naked eye. This period, which most consider to be the optimal viewing period, lasted around an hour before the shadow of the Earth began hiding it once again. By 6 am, the eclipse was over.
For those who missed out on this morning’s eclipse, luckily the Earth is currently in a rare position. This eclipse was the second of four consecutive total lunar eclipses, according to the NASA eclipse website. This means there will be two more total lunar eclipses visible next year in April and September. These consecutive total lunar eclipses form what astronomers call a lunar tetrad, and are quite rare.
To those still unsure about waking up early for next year’s eclipses, they will be the last ones for quite a long time. NASA’s website states the last lunar tetrad occurred in 2003, and the next won’t be visible until 2032.
So come April 4, 2015, the date of the next total lunar eclipse, step outside and check it out: the stars are literally aligned for it.