“Poor” viewing conditions for tonight’s full lunar eclipse

    A full lunar eclipse aims to dazzle sky gazers across North America tonight, but Mother Nature has other plans for the New Jersey region. 

    The celestial show will peak around 3 a.m., according to Space.com, which is when the National Weather Service says rain will be moving into the area.

    With cloudy conditions, AccuWeather.com forecasts “poor” viewing conditions.

    Here’s the astronomical reasoning behind the event. From National Geographic:

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    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.

    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.

    Our next chance to see a total lunar eclipse is on October 8, 2014

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