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A supermoon during a lunar eclipse observed in Washington, DC in September 2015. Today, a rare ‘super blue blood moon’ will be visible to people in the United States, with viewers on the West Coast with the best seats. PIC BY NASA

TODAY, if you live in the United States, the moon will bloom red, like a giant rose in the predawn sky. If you live in the western part of the US, the eastern part of Asia or in Australia, you can watch the show unfold better than anywhere else.

The celestial event is known as a “blood moon”, and it occurs as the moon slides behind Earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse. Unlike this past summer’s solar eclipse — where the moon momentarily blocked out the sun — a lunar eclipse is when Earth moves in between the sun and the moon. For half the planet, the cosmic alignment will turn the moon a coppery colour for just over an hour.

Lunar eclipses are not uncommon, but the coincidence of Wednesday’s blood moon with other astronomical events is what makes this event special. First, because it is a “blue moon” — that means it is the second full moon to occur in a month. Also, it is a supermoon, meaning it will be closer to the Earth than usual, but the difference in size is hardly noticeable. Here’s what you need to know to catch this lunar trifecta some are calling the “super blue blood moon”.

Question: When can I see the eclipse?

Answer: It takes several hours for the moon to pass through the Earth’s shadow. First, it dips through the penumbra — the outer, lighter part of the shadow — and then the umbra — which is the darker portion that creates the reddish glow, known as totality.

For people living in New York and other parts of the east coast of the US, the moon will begin entering the penumbra at 5.51am local time, according to Gordon Johnston, a programme executive at Nasa. Then it will plunge into the umbra at 6.48 am. But, because this occurs around the time the sun is rising, you might have trouble seeing much of the eclipse before it drowns in the dawn light.

Midwesterners are a tad luckier as they will be able to see more of the event. For them, the moon enters the penumbra at 4.51am Central Time and starts to turn reddish around 6.15am Central Time. Between 6.15am and 6.30am local time will be the best chance for anyone living in the midwest to see the spectacle before the sun rises, according to Johnston.

The show starts to get good for people in the Mountain states. The umbra kisses the moon at 4.48am Mountain time. Its red lipstick becomes most visible around 6.30am local time, until it gets washed away by the sun at about 7am.

Viewers on the west coast will have the best seats in the continental US. They will be able to watch the eclipse from start until finish, unabated by sunrise. The blood moon portion of the eclipse will enter totality at 4.51am and peak at 5.30am. It will end about
6.05am local time.

Skygazers in Australia and eastern Asia will be able to watch the event tonight as the moon rises.

However, only some parts of Australia will experience the lunar triple treat, according to Tanya Hill, an astronomy curator at the Museums Victoria in Australia. Writing in The Conversation, she noted that Australia’s eastern states would not experience a blue moon because those areas observe Daylight Saving Time, which pushes the full moon and the lunar eclipse to Thursday morning on Feb 1 and thus, the next month and out of blue moon territory. Still, they will have a front-row seat as the moon goes red.

Western Europe, western Africa and most of South America will all miss out.

Q: Where should I go to watch the eclipse?

A: The best tip for anyone trying to see the eclipse is to get a clear view of the horizon and look in the west-northwest direction.

“The farther west you are, the higher in the west-northwest the moon will appear, the darker the sky will be,” said Johnston, “and the longer you will be able to view the eclipse before sunrise and moonset.”

You can leave those fancy eclipse glasses from summer at home. You can watch this safely with your naked eyes, though using a telescope could make for a fun experience.

Q: What does it look like on the moon?

A: Perhaps the best view of today’s celestial activity is from the moon itself, according to Johnston. Standing on the lunar soil looking back at Earth, you would see quite the sight as the planet’s shadow consumes you.

“You would see a red circle of sunlight scattered toward the moon by the Earth’s atmosphere,” Johnston said.

“You would be seeing the glow of all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth, all at the same time.”

Q: Can I view the lunar eclipse online?

A: No need to fret if you can’t see the eclipse. Nasa will be showing the event online beginning at 5.30am Eastern Time (6.30pm Malaysian time). You can also catch a broadcast by the Slooh Community Observatory, a telescope service, starting at 5.45am Eastern Time.

Q: When is the next lunar eclipse?

A: The next total lunar eclipse will be July 27, according to Johnston. That one won’t be visible from the US, but Africa, the Middle East and India will get eyefuls.

The US will have to wait another year to see one, and that will be Jan 21 next year, though it will not be a blue moon, only a super blood moon. -- NYT

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