It is time to pull an all-nighter. No I am not talking about college final exams. There is a lunar eclipse coming up on the fifteenth. It will actually begin a little before midnight on Monday the fourteenth and continue through much of the night.
Eclipses of the moon (or sun for that matter) are not particularly common because of differences in the planes of the moon’s orbit around the earth and the earth’s orbit around the sun. Eclipses of course can only occur when the earth is directly between the sun and the moon. The moon will not completely disappear or black-out, but as it enters the shadow of the earth it will take on what is often described as a red-orange or coppery color. Others have described the moon at full eclipse as a big peach up in the sky. The color is caused by sunlight reflecting off the earth’s atmosphere.
The partial eclipse should begin just before midnight Monday night (11:58pm CDT). About an hour later (1:07 am CDT) the total eclipse will begin and continue for over an hour. The show won’t be completely over until between four thirty and five o’clock Tuesday morning. So if the sky is clear it could make for an interesting show. But all bets are off if the sky is overcast.
Can you imagine what an eclipse of the moon (or sun!) would have meant for early cultures? Several cultures thought that a full lunar eclipse was caused by some animal trying to eat or swallowing the moon. The red color of the moon during eclipse was thought to represent or caused by blood. The Mayans thought an eclipse was caused by a jaguar trying to consume the moon. In China it was a dragon. One story from Norse mythology was that two wolves were constantly chasing the sun and moon. Whenever the wolves caught one of them, there was an eclipse. The people would then make a great amount of noise to scare off the wolves, which by the way always saved the sun or moon.
If your schedule allows it, give some consideration to staying up and watching the lunar eclipse. Or maybe just set an alarm for around 1:30am or thereabouts, and get up to check on it and then go back to sleep. Whatever you decide, don’t worry, no celestial dragon or wolf will have eaten the moon when you get up the next morning.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.