Two sure things for Tuesday: a lunar eclipse and taxes

Published Apr. 14, 2014

A couple of hours after midnight tonight — you know, right about the time you're starting your taxes — walk outside and look up.

The view will take your mind off W-2 forms, itemized deductions and general frustration over money owed the government.

Clouds are predicted to be hovering over the Tampa Bay area, so you might have to find a seam or hole, but you'll be gazing at a sight that has captivated humans for the ages: a total lunar eclipse.

For about three and a half hours early Tuesday morning, from roughly 2 to 5:30 a.m., the eclipse will be visible. This is the type of eclipse in which the moon passes into Earth's shadow and darkens.

It's different from a solar eclipse, in which the moon passes in front of the sun. And unlike a solar eclipse, this one is perfectly safe to watch with the naked eye.

In this eclipse, as the moon slips into Earth's shadow, it will turn an orange-ish color, though the exact tint is hard to predict.

"Anything from a cherry red to a dark brick — it's going to be some shade of orange-red," said David Dickinson, a freelance science writer who lives in Hudson.

The eclipse begins about 2 a.m. when the moon starts to move through the inner shadow cast by Earth, called the umbra. It will start with what Dickinson likes to call the "Pac-Man" phase of the eclipse, when it looks like a bite has been taken out of the moon.

Daryl L. Schrader, professor emeritus at St. Petersburg College, said that as it slips deeper into Earth's shadow, "more and more of the moon is going to darken until the whole thing is in totality. And then look for that reddish color."

Light from the sun will refract around the Earth, bending through the atmosphere and picking up the same glow as in sunsets, said Schrader, who writes an astronomy column for the Tampa Bay Times. That's what will give the moon a reddish appearance.

By about 3:06 a.m., the moon will have passed all the way into shadow, which is called total eclipse. The total eclipse will last for about an hour and 18 minutes. And then the moon will start to poke back out. This is the partial eclipse, which ends at 5:33 a.m.

Some other interesting tidbits about this eclipse:

• NASA says it's the first in a "tetrad" of four total lunar eclipses that will be visible from most of North America. The others will be: Oct. 8; April 4, 2015; and Sept. 28, 2015.

• Some are calling this a "blood moon" and predicting the end of the world, etc.

It may not be the end of the world. It will definitely be April 15. Says Dickinson: "I would still file my taxes."

Times staff writer Weston Phippen contributed to this report.