The shadow of the earth is expected to pass between the sun and the moon beginning about 12:29 a.m. Tuesday, and will fully eclipse the moon in about 72 minutes. The entire eclipse should be completed by 4 a.m. for those watching in Michigan.
“What you’ll slowly start to see is a bite being taken out of the moon,” said Michael Narlock, the chief astronomer at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills. “It will be a shadow, usually reddish, creeping across the face of the moon until it is completely red. How red depends on the particles in the atmosphere.”
Lunar eclipses happen on average twice a year, and only when the moon is full. While there was a partial eclipse in June, the last full lunar eclipse was in February of 2008, and Michigan likely won’t see another of this magnitude until April 14, 2014.
An estimated 1.5 billion people should be able to see the full eclipse in North America and South America, and parts of Europe and Asia.
“The nice thing about eclipses is you don’t need special equipment, like binoculars or a telescope to enjoy them,” Narlock said. He suggested those hoping to film the eclipse use a tripod and then take very short exposed photographs, since the eclipse moves so slow. And unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses do not require protective eyewear.
“They can be very, very interesting. I like to imagine myself two thousand years ago, and seeing this happen, and had I not understood, what I would have wondered,” Narlock said.
Eerie eclipses have long intrigued, inspired and terrified human beings. The Vikings were convinced that a celestial wolf was consuming the moon, and made great noise, banging drums and weapons to scare the wolf away in time to let the moon re-emerge.
And historians note that Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the New World, and desperate and stranded in Jamaica, consulted his navigational tables and realized an eclipse was due Feb. 29, 1504. The Jamaican people had grown weary of feeding and caring for the Europeans and had stopped giving them food. Columbus warned that God was angry over their stinginess and would take away their moon. As the eclipse began, the panicked Jamaicans brought food to the hungry men.
Narlock, who has seen dozens of eclipses, plans to skip this one and stay in bed.
“I’ve seen a lot of these, and while they’re interesting and fun to watch, they occur generally on average two or more a year. I sort of treat this like the Detroit Lions, they’re always there next year.”