Throughout history, mankind has always been intrigued by both the sun and the moon.
The two celestial bodies have permeated science and religion, literature and mythology.
As an amateur astronomer, I have always had a certain fascination with the moon. I have stared at it, pondered it and photographed it. So, on April 15, I know with certainty I will be looking up into the nighttime sky at that big old, bright shiny silvery sphere, because on that particular evening we are going to be treated to a total lunar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when planet Earth passes through its own shadow and blocks the sun’s rays from illuminating the moon. Only occasionally do the sun, Earth and moon line up in the right manner for a lunar eclipse to occur. There are three types or stages of a lunar eclipse – total, partial and penumbral – depending on how far the moon enters into the umbra, the dark, central part of the shadow cast by planet Earth. When the moon enters all the way into the umbra, it is referred to as a total lunar eclipse. When it enters only part way into the umbra, a partial eclipse is said to occur, and, when it passes just outside the umbra, a penumbral eclipse occurs.
Needless to say, a total eclipse is the most spectacular.
Another, similarly unique celestial event is a total eclipse of the sun or solar eclipse. It occurs when the moon aligns just right, to completely block the sun from the Earth’s view on one half or one side of the planet. The other side would already be in darkness – a state known as nighttime.
While just as spectacular as a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse can only be viewed from a narrow track or path on the Earth’s surface (some 100 miles/160 kilometres wide). Outside of this narrow path, the rest of the world will observe a partial eclipse, as the moon blocks but a portion of the sun.
Also, depending where the moon is in the Earth’s orbit, the moon can sometimes pass directly in front of the sun but not completely block it. This is known as annular eclipse, so-called because you can see a ring, or annulus, of the sun’s rays projecting out from behind the lunar disk.
Up to seven eclipses can take place within the space of one year (the last time this occurred was in 1982), and as few as four, which will be the case in 2014.
All four of these events, the total lunar eclipse on April 15, an annular solar eclipse on April 29, a total lunar eclipse on Oct. 8 and a partial solar eclipse on Oct. 23, will be observable, to various degrees, all across the Northern Hemisphere and particularly well here in Canada and the rest of North America.
The April 15 lunar eclipse will be a late-night/ early-morning event with mid-eclipse taking place here in the Shuswap at approximately 7:46 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time).
Depending on weather conditions, observers in the both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will be able to observe the eclipse. However, observers in the Western Pacific area of North America will miss the first half of the eclipse because it will take place before the moon rises in the Northern Hemisphere.
One thing that’s going to make this eclipse special is the fact that it will be the type known as a blood moon – the moon will turn a deep red colour and subsequently bathe the early- morning sky in an eerie shroud of blood red.
I for one am looking forward to looking upward into the sky during those early hours of Tuesday, April 15.