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Blood Moon Makes for Good Photos, But Also Provides Information on Atmospheric Conditions

Apr 16, 2014 06:02 PM EDT
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While much of the US East coast was covered by clouds during the total lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning, the skies were unobstructed in Arizona where the National Science Foundation's National Optical Astronomy Observatory is located, providing excellent views of the so-called "blood moon", as well as information on the particles in the atmosphere.

The year's first total lunar eclipse treated skywatchers across the Americas to the spectacle of Earth's shadow falling across the moon, casting it in an eerie blood-orange hue.

The blood moon lasted about 3.5 hours between late Monday and early Tuesday, depending on where it was viewed from, with the peak of the eclipse occurring around 3 a.m. EST.

Although there was much media hype around the eerie hue of the blood moon, it was actually the same color as most lunar eclipses, according to the National Science Foundation.

The color of the moon during a lunar eclipse has to do with the atmosphere's propensity for longer wavelength light such as red, orange and yellow (which are also seen at sunrise and sunset).

"The study of the color of lunar eclipses can be used to understand dust in the stratosphere including the amount and particle size of dust injected by volcanic eruptions," NOAO Astronomer Stephen Pompea said in a statement. "Understanding the amount of dust can help scientists create better models of climate change."

The lunar eclipse was the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses in what's known as a "tetrad" taking place between April 2014 and September 2015, according to NASA

The next total lunar eclipse will occur Oct. 8, 2014, another occurs in about a year on April 4, 2015, and the last of the tetrad happens on Sept. 28 2015.

"The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA," said NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak.

Click here for more photos of Tuesday's blood moon. 

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