There are three unique things about Sunday's total lunar eclipse to excite sky watchers: It's a supermoon, a harvest moon and what some people are calling a blood moon.
There also are three ideal places to watch the eclipse — Bear Branch Nature in Westminster, Charlotte's Quest Nature Center in Manchester and Soldier's Delight in Owings Mills — each with a knowledgeable guide from the Westminster Astronomical Society to point out lunar features and the science behind the eclipse.
All three events, which are free, start at 9 p.m., which is when the moon will begin passing through the Earth's penumbral shadow — the less opaque border of the shadow Earth casts into space — which will begin to dim the moon's light, according to Bob Clark, a club member who will be leading the event at Charlotte's Quest. The total eclipse, where the moon crosses through the Earth's umbral shadow — the darker core of the shadow — should begin just after 10 p.m and last a little more than an hour, turning the moon a reddish hue.
"I am kind of figuring on whenever anybody wants to know what they are looking at on the moon as the eclipse proceeds across it, I will identify it," he said. "What I intend to do, assuming we don't get rained out, is to have at least two telescopes on the moon all the time."
A telescope is not necessary to view the eclipse, Clark said; a pair of binoculars or just the naked eye is sufficient to catch the striking image of the moon cast in shadow, and unlike a solar eclipse, is safe to watch directly. You can even watch from home if you're not feeling social.
"There is nothing wrong with watching at home, but in a group it's more fun and you can have little more knowledge about what's happening," said Steve Conard, the director of the Bear Branch Nature Center Observatory.
Those who come out to watch with others in Westminster and Manchester will also get to peer through the powerful 14- and 15-inch telescopes the club has installed at those locations during the past two months, and Conard said the club is keen to get people out to use the facilities.
"We will probably use the big observatory telescope to look at some other celestial objects as well," he said. "Right now is a good time to look at Milky Way objects: There are some gaseous nebula in Sagittarius that are real pretty."
The astronomy club's Skip Bird will be leading the eclipse viewing at Soldier's Delight, and while he will not have the large telescopes of the two observatories, there will be enough smaller scopes to do some additional sky viewing while the moon is in the center of the Earth's shadow.
"Once it gets dark enough we will try to find Saturn or Neptune nearby," Bird said. "I use it as a training session: When the full moon is out, how many stars do you see? We come back after the moon is eclipsed and say, 'OK, how many stars do you see now?' The full moon is acting like regular light pollution in this case."
There are also the special aspects of this eclipse to consider: It's the last in a series of four eclipses separated by about six months, a tetrad, the first of which occurred on April 15, 2014 but at a less reasonable hour — the total eclipse began just after 3 a.m. There were also eclipses on Oct. 8, 2014 and April 4.
According to NASA's website, the last such tetrad of total lunar eclipses occurred in 2003 and 2004, and the next set will not occur until 2032 and 2033.
While the moon might turn blood red during the total eclipse on Sunday, "blood moon" is not actually an astronomical term, but a reference to the last eclipse of the tetrad made by a theologian according to Earthsky.org.
But it's not just about the color. This will also be a harvest moon, the full moon nearest the fall equinox, and a supermoon.
"The supermoon is when the moon is closest to the Earth and it makes it 15 percent bigger," Clark said. "The average distance [to the moon] is 238,000 miles. It will be 225,00 miles on Sunday evening."
It should be quite a show — as long as it doesn't rain.
"If you have any favors with the weather gods, cash them," Bird said. "Although it looks like it might clear up around the time of the eclipse."
The events will go on with cloud cover but will be canceled in the event of rain.
If you go:
What: Supermoon eclipse viewing with the Westminster Astronomical Society
When: 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Sunday
Where: Bear Branch Nature Center, 300 John Owings Road, Westminster; Charlotte's Quest Nature Center, 3400 Wilhelm Lane, Manchester; Soldiers Delight Overlook, 5100 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills
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Bringing chairs and dressing for the weather is advised.