Olivia Harvey
July 27, 2018 8:00 am
Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Grab your moon goggles, space cadets, because we’re about to see something cosmically cool. Tonight, July 27th, the world will bear witness to the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century. According to EarthSky.org, tonight’s full moon lunar eclipse will last for a whopping 1 hour, 42 minutes, and 57 seconds, but because of the partial eclipse preceding and following the total eclipse, the moon will actually spend 3 hours and 55 minutes in the Earth’s umbral shadow.

Now that we’ve got you all worked up and ready to marvel at the moon come Friday, it’s time to deliver the bad news. Those of us in North and Central America will have to catch the lunar eclipse on a livestream since it takes place in the middle of our daylight hours.

But stargazers in the eastern hemisphere (Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand) will get to behold the beauty that is the longest lunar eclipse of this century. Lucky!

For comparison, the shortest lunar eclipse of this century, which took place on April 4th, 2015, only lasted for a quick 4 minutes and 48 seconds. And remember when we had that supermoon/Blue Moon/lunar eclipse mashup on January 31st, 2018? That eclipse was closer in length to the upcoming July 27th one. But in January the moon was only in Earth’s umbral shadow for 1 hour and 16 minutes.

As awestruck as we are knowing we’ll be watching space history be made, there’s even more exciting lunar news happening tonight.

While the moon is eclipsed, which means the sun, moon, and Earth are all aligned, Earth will also pass directly between the sun and Mars. This puts Mars “at opposition” in the night sky, meaning it will be big, beautiful, and visible to us earthlings.

EarthSky.org notes that now is the best time to see Mars at opposition since 2003. And because of its closeness to Earth, the red planet is currently shining brighter than Jupiter.

So while you’re looking up to see the moon dip into the shadows, pay attention to the reddish star shining near the full moon. That’s our good friend Mars paying us a visit.

The moon will be eclipsed for such a long time because it’s passing directly through the center of Earth’s shadow, rather than slightly north or slightly south, EarthSky.org explains. Plus, the July full moon is at its farthest point from Earth. This means it will take a longer time to move across the night sky, prolonging the eclipse even more.

No matter where you are, being aware that a majestic lunar event is happening (and won’t happen again for another 100 years) can give you a pretty special feeling. Mark your calendar and make a note to tell your future grandkids that you were alive when the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century darkened the globe — or, you know, something like that.

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