This is a big week even for the most amateur of sky-watchers, with a rare full lunar eclipse and Mars getting as close as it ever does to Earth.
Moon shadow play. The moon will appear to be orange-red late Monday night and early Tuesday morning as it undergoes a total eclipse, the first visible from the Western Hemisphere in more than two years.
The first hints of Earth’s shadow taking a bite out of the moon’s silvery disk happens Tuesday at 1:58 a.m. EDT (Monday at 10:58 p.m. PDT). The celestial show will be visible across both American continents and most of the Pacific basin. (Related: “Why People See Faces in the Moon.”)
To minimize interruptions to sleep, consider catching the height of the totality, when the moon will be in the deepest part of Earth’s shadow and at its most colorful, which occurs at 3:46 a.m. EDT (12:46 a.m. PDT). (Related: “Lunar Eclipse Myths From Around the World.”)
Photographing the eclipse calls for a digital camera that you can mount on a tripod and set with a remote timer. Include a foreground object like a house, trees, or hills to add perspective to your shots. And try using multiple exposure lengths, from a fraction of a second to a few seconds long.
Get the most out of this celestial event by reading my viewer’s guide to the eclipse.
Magnificent Mars. Not to be outdone by the eclipse, the red planet is at its closest to Earth on Monday night. A week after being at opposition—which is theoretically its closest point to Earth at 57.2 million miles (92 million kilometers)—it’s even closer on Monday due to the combined effect of both planets’ relative position to each other in their slightly elongated orbits. Earth is heading towards its most distant point from the sun while Mars is heading towards its closest point to the sun. On Monday night you can find it perched just above the moon. (See “Watch Mars Invade Our Sky: Biggest and Brightest Since 2007.”)
Celestial trio. Face the eastern sky after nightfall on Tuesday, April 15, for a straight alignment of orange-hued Mars, blue-white Spica—the brightest star in the constellation Virgo—and the silvery full moon. Amazing to think that these three objects are not only vastly different in origin but also in distance. While the moon is 248,550 miles (400,000 kilometers) away from Earth, Spica is 250 light-years away.
Moon and Saturn. Look for the waning moon to climb the evening sky on Wednesday, April 16, accompanied by Saturn as a close companion. The moon will appear only 2 degrees from Saturn, a separation equal to the width of two fingers held at arm’s length.
Lucky sky-watchers in the southern part of South America actually get to see the moon eclipse, or occult, Saturn. Here’s a detailed map and timetable of the occultation.
Lyrids begin. Look for a slow trickle of meteors to begin in the predawn hours of Thursday, April 17, signaling the beginning of the annual minor meteor shower known as the Lyrids.
Each shooting star appears to radiate out from its namesake constellation, Lyra, the Harp, which rises in the eastern sky in the predawn hours. From a half dozen shooting stars this week, expect the hourly rate of shooting stars to climb until it peaks, with the rate doubling by April 22.