By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Mars has been visible in the night sky over the last few days, and now another bright red orb will join it periodically. Next week – and several more times over the next couple of years – the Moon will turn a blood red hue during four different lunar eclipses.
The Moon is covered in dust particles that capture sunlight and reflect it back to our planet, which makes it appear as a glowing orb. During a lunar eclipse – which can only occur during a full Moon – the Earth aligns perfectly with the Sun and Moon. As our planet steps in front of the Moon and captures the sunlight, it casts a shadow over it.
There are three types of lunar eclipses: total, partial and penumbral. Partial lunar eclipses only cast dark shadows over a small portion, while penumbral lunar eclipses cover even less area. The last one is particularly interesting because it’s hard to notice. During a total eclipse, however, the Moon is completely covered by Earth’s reddish shadow. Why is it this color?
Though the Sun is nowhere in sight, some of the rays still get through Earth’s gassy atmosphere. They are scattered through the gases until they finally reach the Moon, but by this point everything but red light has been filtered out; thus the moon looks red and is commonly referred to as a blood Moon! It’s the same effect that causes magnificent light shows during a brilliant sunset.
There are going to be four blood Moons coming up, on the following dates: April 15, 2014; October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015. For the total lunar eclipse occurring this month, Mars will be right next to the Moon.
Since the order of lunar eclipses are completely random, we are definitely in for a treat!
Images courtesy of NASA.