Wake up early Wednesday: See a lunar eclipse

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Ian Hewitt of the Raleigh Astronomy Club took this photo of a lunar eclipse in 2008.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, the Full Moon will pass completely into Earth’s shadow. This total lunar eclipsecan be seen from nearly all of the Americas.

In North Carolina, the eclipse is visible during the couple of hours before sunrise on Oct. 8th, while the Moon is setting in the west.

How to view the Oct. 8th lunar eclipse:

1) Check your weather forecast. 

Will you have clear (enough) skies? If it’ll be overcast or rainy, you might as well sleep in. As I write this, the forecast looks good for most of North Carolina, including all of the Triangle area.

2) Set an alarm on Tuesday night before you go to bed.

Even if your normal wake-up time on Wednesday will have you up and about during the eclipse, know that the later you wait to head outside after the eclipse begins, the closer the Moon will be to the horizon, and the brighter the sky will be from the approaching dawn.

Here are some important time points (Eastern Daylight Time):

5:15 a.m. – Partial eclipse begins

6:25 a.m. – Total eclipse begins

6:55 a.m. – Moon is at greatest eclipse

7:17 a.m. – Sunrise for Chapel Hill*

7:22 a.m. – Moonset for Chapel Hill*

*Sunrise and moonset times vary depending on your location.

Totality continues until 7:24 a.m. EDT, and the partial eclipse ends at 8:34 a.m. EDT. But once the Moon has set for where you live, your view of the eclipse is definitely over.

3) Find a good western horizon.

That means avoiding hills or obstructions, such as from buildings or nearby trees. For the Eastern U.S., the Moon will be setting in the west during the eclipse. After taking the trouble to be out so early, you’d undoubtedly prefer to see the Moon eclipsed by Earth’s shadow rather than by trees or buildings.

The Moon will only sink lower in the sky as the eclipse progresses, making it harder to see the eclipse. So you may want to get outside early on, fairly soon after the partial eclipse starts at 5:15 a.m. EDT.

For those of us in the Eastern U.S. there’s about a five-minute period (7:17-7:22 a.m. in Chapel Hill) when the Sun and eclipsed Moon are simultaneously above the horizon — a “selenelion.” But good luck seeing it around here. You’ll need true horizons for both the west (where the Moon is setting) and the east (where the Sun is rising) at the same time.

4) Open your eyes.

The Moon is always a lovely sight through binoculars or a telescope, but for viewing lunar eclipses just the unaided eye will generally suffice. If you’re trying to see the selenelion, binoculars will help you pick out the Moon low in the brightening sky (remember: DON’T look at the Sun through binoculars).

You can see a simulation of the eclipse as it would look from Chapel Hill at the Solar System Scope site. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon usually turns an interesting shade of orange or red.

The next lunar eclipse happens April 4, 2015, at roughly similar times, but on a Saturday.