“Blood Moon” – What You Need To Know About the Lunar Eclipse

The Moon moves from right to left, passing through the penumbra and the umbra, leaving in its wake an eclipse diagram showing the times at different stages of the eclipse. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

What is a lunar eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth, and moon align so that the moon comes in the shadow of the earth. In a total lunar eclipse, the entire moon falls in the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow, called the umbra. When the Moon is within the umbra, it will take on a reddish hue. Lunar eclipses are sometimes called “Blood Moons” because of this phenomenon.

Earth's atmosphere scatters sunlight during lunar eclipse

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth’s atmosphere scatters sunlight. The sun’s blue light scatters, and longer-wavelength red, orange, and yellow light passes through, turning our moon red. *not to scale. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio

How can I observe the solar eclipse?

You don’t need any special equipment to observe a lunar eclipse, although binoculars or a telescope will improve the view and the red color. A dark environment without bright light provides the best viewing conditions.

The eastern half of the United States and all of South America will have the chance to see every stage of the lunar eclipse. Totality will be visible in much of Africa, Western Europe, Central and South America, and most of North America.

Total Lunar Eclipse May 2022 Visibility Map

A map showing where the lunar eclipse of May 15-16, 2022 is visible. Contours mark the edge of the viewing area at eclipse contact times. The chart is centered at 63°52’W, the lower moon during the mid-eclipse. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio

What if it’s cloudy or I’m not in the viewing area?

NASA will feature a live stream of the eclipse from locations around the world! NASA will also host an episode of NASA Science Live, from 11pm – 12pm ET. Look here:

What can I expect to observe?

GMT (16 May) EDT (May 15-16) PDT (May 15) Milestone What is going on?
1:32 9:32 p.m., May 15 — Moon not visible yet Penumbral eclipse begins The moon enters Earth’s penumbra, the outer part of the shadow. The moon begins to dim, but the effect is quite subtle.
2:27 10:27 PM — Moon not visible yet Partial eclipse begins The moon begins to enter the Earth’s umbra and the partial eclipse begins. To the naked eye, as the moon moves in the umbra, it looks like a bite is being taken from the lunar disk. The part of the Moon within the umbra will appear very dark.
3:29 11:29 PM 8:29 PM Totality begins The entire moon is now in the umbra of the Earth. The moon turns copper red. Try binoculars or a telescope for a better view. If you want to take a photo, use a camera on a tripod with exposures of at least a few seconds.
4:53 12:53 PM, May 16 9:53 pm Totality ends As the moon leaves the Earth’s umbra, the red color fades. It will appear as if a bite is taken from the other side of the lunar disk, as before.
5:55 1:55 am 10:55 PM Partial eclipse ends The entire moon is in Earth’s penumbra, but again, the dimming is subtle.
6:50 2:50 am 11:50 pm Penumbral eclipse ends The solar eclipse is over.

What else can I see tonight?

The Moon will be in the constellation of Libra. Here are some more skywatching tips for the month of May.

Why does the moon turn red during a lunar eclipse?

The same phenomenon that makes our skies blue and our sunsets red causes the moon to turn red during a lunar eclipse. It’s called Rayleigh scattering. Light travels in waves and different colors of light have different physical properties. Blue light has a shorter wavelength and is more easily scattered by particles in the Earth’s atmosphere than red light, which has a longer wavelength.

Red light, on the other hand, travels more directly through the atmosphere. When the sun is above us, we see blue light through the sky. But when the sun sets, sunlight has to pass through more atmosphere and travel farther before it reaches our eyes. The blue light from the sun is scattered and red, orange and yellow light with a longer wavelength is transmitted.

During a lunar eclipse, the moon turns red because the only sunlight reaching the moon passes through Earth’s atmosphere. The more dust or clouds in Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse, the redder the moon will appear. It is as if all the sunrises and sunsets in the world are projected onto the moon.

Artistic rendering of the Earth during a lunar eclipse from the surface of the moon. Seen from the moon, as in this animation, the earth hides the sun. A red ring, the sum of all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets, lines the Earth’s rim and casts a ruddy light on the lunar landscape. With the darkness of the eclipse, the stars emerge. The city lights of the Americas are visible on the night side of the Earth. The part of the Earth visible in this animation is the part where the lunar eclipse can be seen. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio

Will a NASA spacecraft observe the solar eclipse?

NASA’s mission team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA’s lunar orbiting spacecraft, will turn off its instruments during the solar eclipse. The spacecraft is solar powered, so LRO will shut down to conserve battery while the moon is in shadow.

The Lucy spacecraft, currently traveling to study[{” attribute=””>Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, will turn its gaze toward its home planet to observe a portion of the five-hour long eclipse – from just before the penumbral eclipse to just before the end of totality. The mission team plans to capture a view of both the Earth and the Moon with the high-resolution imager, L’LORRI. Since the spacecraft will be 64 million miles away and uses the Deep Space Network, it will likely take a few weeks to download and process the images.

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