Blood moons on the horizon

First of four lunar eclipses overnight

The first of four total lunar eclipses – through next year – will be a sight for stargazers in the early hours after midnight April 15, with a starting point of around 11:50 p.m. April 14 in Cayman. 

During the eclipse, the moon could appear a burnt reddish orange, known as a blood moon, NASA says. 

“Within a year and a half, North America will be able to see a blood moon a total of four times. The moon takes on this color during the eclipse as it passes through the Earth’s shadow, which is the color of a desert sunset,” according to the NASA website. 

The four blood moons will occur in roughly six-month intervals on the following dates: April 15, 2014; Oct. 8, 2014; April 4, 2015, and Sept. 28, 2015, NASA says. 

A blood moon refers to the hunter’s moon, which is the first full moon after the harvest moon. 

Local astronomer Chris Cooke said having four lunar eclipses in a row is known as a tetrad. 

“…What is interesting,” said Mr. Cooke, “is that we are about to have four total lunar eclipses in a row, and some people are now calling these eclipses blood moons because they are claiming a religious significance to them.”

The “Blood Moon Prophecy” was an idea put forth by pastor John Hagee, whose best-seller “Four Blood Moons – Something is About to Change” – highlights a relation between the moons and Jewish holiday. The April 15 eclipse falls during Passover.  

“As an astronomer, I sincerely doubt we have anything here other than coincidences, and don’t get me wrong, a sequence of lunar eclipses like this to an astronomer will be a great sight to see,” Mr. Cooke said. 

NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak said in a statement, “The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA.” 

“In the 21st century, there will be many tetrads, but look back a few centuries, and you’ll find the opposite phenomenon,” Espenak said. 

Before the dawn of the 20th century, there was a 300-year period when there were none, he said. 

A lunar eclipse happens when the full moon is shaded by the Earth. 

“The moon is normally lit by sunlight, of course, and when an eclipse occurs, the moon will become darker and the shadow of the Earth can sometimes be seen on the moon,” Mr. Cooke said.  

“There’s various phases of an eclipse – the Earth can also light the moon as the Earth’s atmosphere acts like a lens and sunlight can be refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere and onto the moon  

Due to the time of year, the moon now has a low angle to the horizon when it rises, making it appear to hang low in the evening sky, Mr. Cooke said. 

“What might make this more noticeable is that the moon can play tricks with our eyes,” he said. “There is an optical effect of appearing bigger in the sky close to the horizon than when seen say nearly overhead. This makes the moon much more obvious.” 

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A blood moon will be visible after midnight on April 15. – PHOTO: CHRIS COOKE