Heads up

lunar eclipse 

About 10 a.m. EST tomorrow (Wednesday), the full moon is expected to start to turn a vivid red at the onset of a total lunar eclipse over the Americas–the last one until Dec. 2010, NASA says. The event will take about an hour, and you might even catch a hint of turquoise on the fringes.

From the NASA press release:

A lunar eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the shadow of Earth. You might expect the Moon to grow even more ashen than usual, but in fact it transforms into an orb of vivid red.

Why red? That is the color of Earth’s shadow.

Transiting the shadow’s core takes about an hour. The first hints of red appear around 10 pm EST (7 pm PST), heralding a profusion of coppery hues that roll across the Moon’s surface enveloping every crater, mountain and moon rock, only to fade away again after 11 pm EST (8 pm PST). No special filter or telescope is required to see this spectacular event. It is a bright and leisurely display visible from cities and countryside alike.

The source of the turquoise is ozone. Eclipse researcher Dr. Richard Keen of the University of Colorado explains: “During a lunar eclipse, most of the light illuminating the moon passes through the stratosphere where it is reddened by scattering. However, light passing through the upper stratosphere penetrates the ozone layer, which absorbs red light and actually makes the passing light ray bluer.” This can be seen, he says, as a soft blue fringe around the red core of Earth’s shadow.

To catch the turquoise on Feb. 20th, he advises, “look during the first and last minutes of totality.” That would be around 10:01 pm EST and 10:51 pm EST (7:01 and 7:51 pm PST).

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