Nature’s greatest sky spectacles may be perfectly silent, but they provoke shouts and gasps. People cannot believe the soul-stirring glory of a total solar eclipse or the brief shadow-casting seconds of a meteor’s exploding fireball. A bright auroral display, in contrast, is simply jaw-dropping. And yet a lunar eclipse causes no comparable human reaction. So an honest description of the coming total lunar eclipse next Monday night, November 7, might be “odd” rather than “glorious.”
Nonetheless, the mere fact that our planet›s normally-invisible shadow is swallowing the moon, vivid proof that we really live on a sphere whose shadow is therefore always round, and that this shadow has an odd ruddy color thanks to all of the world’s sunrises and sunsets throwing their light into it, raises the ante and makes it a worthy sight.
Worthy but, in this case, inconvenient. The first inky bite of our planet’s shadow strikes the Moon at 4:09 E.S.T. meaning just after 4 a.m., so it’s technically happening the opening hours of Tuesday the 8th. During the next hour or so, the moon’s 2,200 mph motion through space pushes it further into the shadow, creating strange, alien shapes. The very weirdest profiles unfold the quarter hour before totality, starting around 5 a.m. If you want to set the alarm for one single time, it should be then.
At 5:15 a.m. the eclipse becomes total, and this lasts for nearly an hour, past even the time of moonset. Since the Moon gets lower and lower as the eclipse goes along, any hills, houses, or trees will soon block it altogether, especially its total portion.
Bringing up the big question: Is this worth setting the alarm and looking out a west-facing window? I sure will, but if we’re to avoid over-hyping it, here’s a comparative score of other celestial events against which to compare it. If we award a score of 100 to a total solar eclipse — the total part of it, not the partial phases — then a bright display of the Northern Lights might earn an 80, and a so-called “Great Comet” that we see every 20 or 25 years would also earn an 80. A rich meteor shower could get a 40, and a lunar eclipse like this one might merit a 35.
These subjective evaluations are offered in case you want to compare the importance of this post-midnight eclipse versus the value of an uninterrupted sleep!