Photos: Total Eclipse Makes a "Blood Moon"

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse main
A "blood moon" is pictured from Gosford, Australia, north of Sydney, October 8, 2014. Jason Reed/Reuters

A "blood moon" was once a terrifying event for our ancestors, who struggled to explain the orb's sudden transformation into a fiery red ball. Modern-day observers understand the science behind the event, but it still provides an opportunity for people to gaze in wonder at the night sky.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, depending on where in the world you were, a total eclipse made a “blood moon” visible for observers in Asia, Australia and North and South America.

“These kinds of events scared the hair off” of our ancestors, who thought the moon was wounded, on fire, or being eaten by a dragon, Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope Magazine, tells Newsweek. “To see this happening to the moon could really throw you for a loop.”

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse 2 A total lunar eclipse, also known as a "blood moon", is pictured from Encinitas, California October 8, 2014. Mike Blake/Reuters

A lunar eclipse occurs when a full moon is directly opposite the sun with the Earth in the middle, MacRobert explains. In other words the moon, Earth and sun must be perfectly aligned. Lunar eclipses occur at most three times a year, according to Fred Espenak, a scientist emeritus at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The Earth’s shadow blocks the light from the sun that normally reflects off the moon, enveloping the moon in a bright orange glow. 

The eclipse occurs in stages, MacRobert tells Newsweek. First, a bright white full moon begins to enter the Earth’s outer shadow, called the penumbra, creating a barely visible shading on one side of the moon. A partial eclipse begins when the moon enters Earth’s central shadow, or the umbra.

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse collage A combination photo shows (clockwise from top left) the moments during and after a total lunar eclipse, also known as a "blood moon", pictured from Encinitas, California October 8, 2014. Mike Blake/Reuters
 

“It looks like a dark bite is being taken out of that side,” says MacRobert. As the moon moves further into the umbra, the edge of the shadow appears to be curved, which MacRobert says is one way the ancient Greeks surmised that the Earth must be round.

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse Shanghai tennis The beginning of a total lunar eclipse is seen from the Qizhong Tennis Court in Shanghai October 8, 2014. Aly Song/Reuters
 
10-8-14 Lunar eclipse 3 The moon nears a total lunar eclipse as seen from Golden, Colorado October 8, 2014. Rick Wilking/Reuters
 
10-8-14 Lunar eclipse ferris wheel A man and a woman look at the moon as they ride a Ferris wheel, while a total lunar eclipse begins in Tokyo October 8, 2014. Toru Hanai/Reuters
 

The third phase—the total eclipse—occurs when the moon has fully entered the Earth’s central shadow, directly opposite the sun, according to  Sky & Telescope Magazine. “All of the sunrises and sunsets around the world at the time” fill the Earth’s atmosphere and give the moon an orange or red color, MacRobert explains.

“To me it gives the moon a really three-dimensional appearance,” MacRobert says. “It sort of looks like a luminous rotten orange.”

After roughly an hour of “totality,” the moon began moving through the penumbra and out of the Earth’s shadow, going through the same stages in reverse, according to  Sky & Telescope Magazine.

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse stages diagram Events for the total lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014. This version is labeled in Universal Time. Other versions are available for the following time zones: PDT, MDT, CDT, and EDT. Due to the Moon's off-center path through Earth's umbra, the northern half of its disk should look brighter during totality than the southern half. Sky & Telescope illustration
 

For those on the East Coast of the U.S., the moon began to set and the dawn sky to grow brighter Wednesday while the total eclipse—which lasted from about 6:25 a.m. until 7:24 a.m. EDT—was still in progress, MacRobert tells Newsweek, whereas observers on the West Coast had a chance to see the entire process in the wee hours of the morning.  Unfortunately, clouds over parts of the East Coast made it more difficult for some to see the phenomenon, The New York Times reported.

10-8-14 Lunar eclipse map Use this map to determine whether the Moon sets or rises during any stage of October's eclipse for your location. Because an eclipsed Moon is always full, moonset or moonrise happens in a very bright sky right around sunrise or sunset. Sky & Telescope illustration
 

Wednesday’s event was the second and final total eclipse of the moon to occur in 2014; the first took place on April 14 and 15. Two total eclipses will occur in 2015, on April 4 and September 27 and 28, according to Sky & Telescope Magazine.