Skywatching: Total Lunar Eclipse Over RI on April 15th
Monday, April 14, 2014
For some of you this lunar eclipse will be challenging to observe. Not technically challenging mind you – temporally so. It occurs on a Tuesday morning between midnight and dawn. A workday for most. A schoolday for many others. However, if the weather cooperates, you can catch some shut eye during the previous evening, and then set an alarm clock for the specific phases of the eclipse you’d like to observe. A full schedule of the eclipse can be found at the conclusion of this column. Use it to plan out your morning.
While I encourage more dedicated Moon observers to watch the eclipse from start to finish, many casual stargazers may consider that decision sheer lunacy! Why not at least try to observe all of totality? This guide will provide all the details you’ll need to understand and enjoy the event. All times are EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), also known as DST (Daylight Saving Time).
Total lunar eclipse
A total lunar eclipse occurs at Full Moon when the Sun, Earth and Moon are in a straight line. With the Earth positioned in the middle of this celestial configuration, its shadow is projected onto the lunar surface.
The eclipse technically begins at 12:53:37am when the Moon, nestled among the stars of Virgo, slides eastward into the Earth’s light penumbral shadow. This dim initial phase is undetectable. Only as the Moon slides deeper into the penumbral shadow will a keen-eyed observer see a subtle shading of the lunar surface from left to right. It is just prior to the Moon entering the Earth's dark umbral shadow that one notices that the moonlight looks somewhat subdued.
When the Moon first encounters the dark umbral shadow at 1:58:19am, the partial phase of the eclipse begins. For one hour and eight minutes the Moon will move deeper and deeper into the dark shadow, generally from left to right. Then at 3:06:47am the Moon will be completely immersed in the Earth’s dark umbral shadow and totality begins. Will the Moon completely disappear from the sky during totality? It all depends upon how much dust is in the Earth’s atmosphere at eclipse time. We’ll know by mid-totality at around 3:45:40am. Totality will last until 4:24:35am for a total duration of one hour and eighteen minutes.
During totality please take careful note of the various hues of color on the lunar surface. Enhance your view with binoculars or a small telescope if you have them. The lunar landscape often looks ashen during totality, with subtle copper, orange or red tones scattered about. And the colors often change as totality progresses. So watch carefully. It is truly a beautiful sight to observe.
In addition, throughout the eclipse carefully scan the limb (edge) of the lunar disk using a telescope. This region of space is star-rich, so you’ll notice stars being covered on the left limb and uncovered on the right limb as the Moon moves eastward through the star fields.
Totality ends at 4:24:35am when the Moon begins to leave the dark shadow and sunlight returns to its surface. For one hour and eight minutes the partial phase will continue until the entire Moon is completely illuminated once again at 5:33:04am. For a while the Moon’s light will still look somewhat subdued as the Moon will remain within the light penumbral shadow until 6:37:37am when the eclipse ends. Usually in a dark sky you would be able to detect this shadow soon after the partial phase completes. However, Sun rise is at approximately 6:05am, so bright twilight will most definitely spoil the view. Also, the Moon sets locally around 6:12am, and unless you have an unobstructed west-southwestern horizon you’ll lose sight of the Moon before then anyway.
What to keep an eye out for
Throughout the eclipse I want you to notice the bright object below the Moon. It is Virgo’s brightest star Spica. Also, above and to the right about 7.5 degrees away you’ll see reddish Mars. Before the eclipse begins only a few bright stars will be seen since the Moon is full. As the eclipse progresses and the sky becomes darker, watch as the fainter stars emerge into visibility. Afterwards the dimmer stars will “disappear” when the lunar illumination returns.
I hope the weather will cooperate on the morning of April 15 for stargazers of every interest level to take advantage of the magnificent circumstances which produce the beauty of a total lunar eclipse. If you miss this one for any reason we will have another total lunar eclipse opportunity on October 8. However, once again that one will also occur during the early morning hours. And regrettably, we will see only the partial phase before totality and only 31 minutes of totality here in Rhode Island before the Moon sets.
Total lunar eclipse phases
Below is a quick glance chart of the important phases of the April 15 total lunar eclipse. All times are Eastern Daylight Time.
- Moon enters penumbra (eclipse begins - not detectable): 12:53:37am
- Moon enters umbra (partial begins): 1:58:19am
- Moon completely within umbra (totality begins): 3:06:47am
- Moon nearest to the center of the Earth’s umbral shadow (mid-totality): 3:45:40am
- Moon begins to leaves umbra (totality ends, partial begins): 4:24:35am
- Moon completely leaves umbra (partial ends, penumbral begins) 5:33:04am
- Moon leaves penumbra (eclipse ends - not detectable): 6:37:37am
Good luck, keep your eyes to the skies, and many happy returns!
In conclusion, please remember that the local observatories are open for your viewing pleasure. Visit their respective websites for public observing schedules. Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open every clear Saturday night. Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every Tuesday night. Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown is open every clear Friday night.
Seagrave and Ladd will not be open for this total lunar eclipse. Frosty Drew plans on opening for the entire event. See their website for updates.
Related Slideshow: Getting Out: Best Bike Trails
East Bay Bike Path
Though Rhode Island is a small state it is perfect for cycling. The East Bay Bike Path is considered to be one of the prettiest bike paths in Rhode Island and was the first multi-town path constructed in the state. This fourteen mile route runs along the Providence River and Narragansett Bay and ends in Bristol. The East Bay Bike Path is perfect for those who like to bike to work or school or is a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon. For more information, click here.
East Bay Bike Path: Veterans Memorial Parkway, East Providence, Barrington, Rhode Island, 02806
Blackstone River Bikeway
The Blackstone River Bikeway is Rhode Island’s third largest bike path extending 11.6 miles from Woonsocket to Cumberland. Parts of this path run alongside the Blackstone River and canal making this a scenic route. This path is envisioned to ultimately connect Providence to the Massachusetts border and connect to the East Bay Bike Path. This path shares the roadway with vehicles and is intended for experienced bikers. For more information, click here.
Blackstone River Bikeway: Cumberland Hill, Cumberland, RI, 02864
Washington Secondary Bike Path
As Rhode Island’s second largest bike path, The Washington Secondary Bike Path extends 14.2 miles from Cranston Street to Central Coventry. Construction has started on this path and when finished the path will run 25 miles from the Connecticut border to close to Providence. For more than half of its length, the path runs parallel to the Pawtuxet River and on-road routes for experienced bikers have been marked by the East Coast Greenway Alliance. For more information, click here.
Washington Secondary Bike Path: Cranston, RI, 02920
Cape Cod Rail Trail
This Cape Cod bike trail follows the route of a former railroad for 22 miles. This bike path has a paved surface, few hills, and has well-marked automobile crossings making it ideal for cycling. The trail’s unpaved shoulder is also perfect for runners and walkers. The best part of this trail is its location. There are plenty of opportunities to get off the trail and hit the beach so you can rest and enjoy the warm weather. For more information, click here.
Cape Cod Rail Trail: Wellfleet, MA, 02667
South County’s William C. O’Neill Bike Path
The South County bike path extends 7 miles through the towns of Peace Dale, Wakefield, Narragansett and ends near the Narragansett Town Beach. This path has a gentle hill in the middle of the trail from Kingston Station to Peace Dale and has moderate ups and downs throughout. For more information, click here.
South County’s William C. O’Neill Bike Path: South Kingston, RI, 02879
Nashua River Rail Trail
The Nashua River Rail Trail travels along numerous scenic overlooks and is a 10 foot wide paved trail that extends 11 miles. The trail extends through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable. The entire trail is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, inline skaters and wheel chairs. The Ayer trailhead also offers access to commuter rail service between Boston and Fitchburg. For more information, click here.
Nashua River Rail Trail: Groton, MA, 01450
Ten Mile River Greenway
The Ten Mile River Greenway is one of the few bike paths in Rhode Island that does not follow a former railroad corridor. This path follows the natural contour of the land and provides a scenic ride along the banks of the James Turner Reservoir. The path connects Slater Park in Pawtucket to the Kimberly Ann Rock Athletic fields in East Providence at a distance of two miles. For more information, click here.
Ten Mile River Greenway: Pawtucket, RI, 02861
Woonasquatucket River Greenway
As a way to renew the area around the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, a bicycle path was constructed. This path links recreational areas, destination sites and the towns of Manton, Hartford, Olneyville, Valley and Smith Hill to each other and to Waterplace Park in downtown Providence. For more information, click here.
Woonasquatucket River Greenway: Johnston, RI, 02919
The Minuteman Bikeway is known as America’s Revolutionary Rail Trail and passes through the historic area where the Revolutionary War began in 1775. This path has become the perfect place for people to come together, ride their bikes, and walk the path. The path also connects to the Alewife “T” station in Cambridge allowing pedestrians easy access to the subway. For more information, click here.
Minuteman Bikeway: Arlington, MA, 02474
Warren Bike Path
The Warren Bike Path is one of the newest bike paths in Rhode Island. This path which opened in 2010 runs one mile from the Kickemuit River to Long Lane, close to the Massachusetts border. This path is mostly level and provides connections to Kickemuit Middle School, Hugh Cole Elementary School, and Warren Recreation Park making it a perfect means of transportation. For more information, click here.
Warren Bike Path: Asylum Road, Warren, RI, 02885
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