Full lunar eclipse on tap for early Tuesday morning

     The December 21, 2010 full lunar eclipse. (Photo: Dendroica Cerulea via Flickr)

    The December 21, 2010 full lunar eclipse. (Photo: Dendroica Cerulea via Flickr)

    A full lunar eclipse will occur early Tuesday morning, a spectacle that will be visible across North America. 

    The celestial show will occur during the overnight hours Monday into Tuesday, peaking around 3 a.m., according to Space.com. 

    National Geographic explains the astronomical reasoning:

    During a lunar eclipse, the moon passes behind our planet so that Earth blocks the sun’s rays from striking the moon. Due to the moon’s tilted orbit around the Earth, one doesn’t occur every month. And total eclipses usually happen once every few years, though there are sometimes more than one in a year.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Lunar eclipses occur only when there is a full moon and the sun, Earth, and moon are precisely aligned for our planet’s shadow to turn out the lunar lights.

    While the National Geographic report says that it’s impossible to predict the precise color the moon will turn as the eclipse occurs, it will be a mixture of orange-red. From the report:

    During an eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface.

    As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color during the partial phase of the eclipse to a reddish-orange color during totality. The same effect is at work when the sun turns red at sunset.

    The moon’s color during totality can vary considerably depending on the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. Active volcanoes spewing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere, for instance, can trigger blood-red eclipses.

    But the National Weather Service is forecasting clouds and rain showers in the New Jersey area early Tuesday. 

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal