The total lunar eclipse on November 8 will start at 3 a.m. EST with its peak time around 5:59 a.m.
Twice a year, after entering nightfall with a full, bright Moon overhead and the Earth and Sun in alignment, the Earth’s shadow falls across the surface of the Moon. It happens slowly over the course of several hours—until all at once, when the Moon lies completely within the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, the space rock beams a dark crimson.
This impressive atmospheric event, a total lunar eclipse, will occur on November 8 starting at 3 a.m. EST with its peak time around 5:59 a.m. when the Moon sets and offers a stunning western horizon.
It will be the last total lunar eclipse until March 2025, though we can still enjoy partial and prenumbral lunar eclipses until then. A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon don’t fall in a straight line but some of the Earth’s shadow, the penumbra, still falls on the Moon. During a prenumbral eclipse, part of the Moon falls in the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, called the umbra, but not all of it falls into the umbra as seen with a total eclipse.
During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon falls in alignment with the Earth and Sun and beams red after falling into the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, the umbra. Illustration by Becky Sehenuk Waite.
Red Sky at Night
The Moon becoming submerged in the Earth’s umbra is what results in its red hue and nickname, “Blood Moon.” The red color is possible due to the same scientific marvel that makes the sky look blue: Rayleigh scattering.
In short, when light from the Sun reaches Earth’s atmosphere (which looks white but is actually made up of all the colors from the rainbow), the light scatters because of dust and other particles in the air. Blue light scatters more than other colors like red because blue light travels as short waves as opposed to long waves. This is why the sky often looks blue. When the Sun sets, sunlight has to travel farther and pass through more atmosphere to reach our eyes, allowing for long wavelength colors like red and orange to come through as the blue light scatters away from us. In the event of a lunar eclipse, red light is able to meet the Moon.
“If the Moon’s orbit around the Earth mirrored the Sun’s path, we’d have a lunar eclipse every month,” says Joel Bregman, H.D. Curtis Professor of Astronomy in LSA. “Fortunately, though, there’s always cool stuff happening in the sky to enjoy.”
Unlike a solar eclipse, a rare event in which the Sun, Moon, and Earth become perfectly aligned for several minutes and cause the Sun to look “blacked out,” a lunar eclipse is safe to view with bare eyes and can be seen from anywhere in the world where it’s night. The next total eclipse of the Sun that will be visible in the U.S. will occur on April 8, 2024.
Lunar Eclipses and other “Naked Eye Astronomy”
Naked eye astronomy—the nature of the most common astronomical objects that can be viewed by the eye without binoculars or a telescope—is what Bregman’s students seem to find the most intriguing. LSA astronomy students learn about the motion of these objects in the sky including the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, comets, and meteors and how they influence Earth.
Bregman, who teaches introductory astronomy courses, says this is covered in all introductory courses, and a minicourse covers just this topic—Astronomy 127: Naked Eye Astronomy, which is packed with eager students every semester.
“I give my students a survey at the end of each class and ask them what astronomy topics they enjoyed learning about the most, and so many are fascinated with the ‘naked eye universe,’” he says. “You see things happen in the sky, like a lunar eclipse, and you wonder why it occurs. Now, you know why.”
Learning about astronomical phenomena, from eclipses to exploding stars, helps students acquire transferable skills like critical thinking and quantitative reasoning, Bergman says, and he hopes more people who are curious about their surroundings embrace this dynamic field of study.
“That’s why I love teaching and doing research. Astronomy is a lively field where we’re constantly learning new things and making discoveries that were never thought were possible before,” he says. “So, keep looking up. That’s what I hope people take away from this. Don’t miss what’s happening right above you. There’s always something amazing to appreciate.”
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