moon eclipse
Image by Luc Viatour, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tonight is going to be an incredibly rare combination of astronomical events. Not only are we set to spot a total lunar eclipse that’s visible in the USA for the first time since 2010, but Mars will also be unusually large and bright in the sky. Which makes it the perfect opportunity to get out and try some astrophotography.

Tonight’s total lunar eclipse will be the first of four in a set, running early morning April 15th, October 8th, and then next year on April 4th and September 28th—what’s called a tetrad. At the same time, Mars is at the biggest and brightest its been in six years, and will actually appear next to the Moon in the night sky.

The best time to see the event will be at 3:00AM EST, midnight PST. And unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses last for hours at a time (and have a dramatic, deep red hue). Unfortunately, you will have to take into account local weather conditions, and it’s probably a good idea to drive away from the city to avoid light pollution.

If you’re just beginning to step into the world of astrophotography, luckily there are many guides out there to help you. This is a good look at how focal length changes the way the Moon will look, here’s an intro to shooting astrophotography, and here. If you’re interested in landscapes and timelapses, have a look at this, this, and this.

And no, there’s nothing about this set of lunar eclipses that makes them a “blood moon“, as all eclipses of this type are red—it’s just drumming up apocalyptic fears.

I, Luc Viatour [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons