So, you want to see a total lunar eclipse? Then plan to stay up late tonight and cross your fingers that clouds aren't in the way, because if you're in North America this could be your last chance to see one this clearly until 2019.
Monday night is the first of four consecutive total eclipses, at six-month intervals, that will also bring a "blood moon" into the night sky. Tonight's event begins at around 2:00 a.m. EDT and should be visible from both North and South America.
The remaining total lunar eclipses of the set -- known as a tetrad -- will occur on October 8, 2014; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015.
One stunning feature of tonight's eclipse will be the blood-red moon lighting the night sky -- and no, it's not a sign of the apocalypse, as some doomsdayers believe; the burnt-orange appearance is created by light dispersion. (Astronomers rarely use the term "blood moon"; a red moon is usually called a "Hunter's Moon.")
Astronomer Fred Espenak explains that the moon could take on "a dramatically colorful appearance, ranging from bright orange to blood red," while NASA gives a more poetic explanation:
"Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway.
You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb."
Space.com estimates that around 922 million people worldwide will be able to see tonight's total lunar eclipse. If it's too cloudy to watch from home, you can tune into NASA's livestream.
Tonight is also the chance to see Mars up close when it passes within 57 million miles of Earth, its closest approach in six years.
Will you stay up tonight to watch the moon turn red? Let us know -- and learn more about the moon in this quick trip to Space School:
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Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center