ORLANDO, Fla. - Hundreds of people gathered at the University of Central Florida's Memory Mall early Tuesday for an up-close viewing of the "blood moon" lunar eclipse.
[PHOTOS: Viewers share 'blood moon' pictures]
Volunteers from the UCF Robinson Observatory provided telescopes for the rare event, which was visible from 2:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.
This is the first time a lunar eclipse has been visible from Florida in over three years.
Organizers of the "Knight Under the Stars" event were surprised by the turnout.
"This is many more people than we were expecting," said Nate Lust, an astronomy student at UCF. "It's really heartening to see this many people taking an interest in science, astronomy, and just generally getting involved with UCF."
People waited in long lines to get a detailed view of the moon through a telescope, some jumped back in line several times.
"We just kept going through the line so we saw it get redder and redder," said Rachael Goddard. "It's pretty cool seeing the progression of that."
As a bonus, viewers were able to see both Mars and Saturn during the eclipse. Mars is the brightest it's been in more than six years, event organizers said.
In a total lunar eclipse, the full moon turns a coppery red as it passes into Earth's shadow. During the process, the moon's bright glow dims, taking on a red hue because of shimmers of sunlight and sunsets seeping through the Earth's atmosphere.
Dust and sulfur dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere can affect the size of the shadow. The moon has to be full for the total lunar eclipse to occur.
As more of the moon emerges from the shadow, its red tint fades as it gets lighter and transitions to its normal silver color. The entire reddening process takes about an hour.
In Tuesday's spectacle, clouds hid the view from half of the United States, but cities such as Dallas, Denver and Los Angeles had optimal, front-row seats.
"Woke up in just enough time to see half of the blood moon," tweeted LaTara Hammers of Columbia, Missouri. "It's so cool how the universe works."
South and North American residents watched the entire spectacle, while observers in the Western Pacific caught the second half of the event. Central Asia and some parts of Europe and Africa didn't see much -- the moon was setting in most of those continents during the eclipse.
"You know what's even weirder than the 'blood moon'? The entire solar system and how amazing it perpetually is always while we barely notice," Johnny Argent tweeted.
'A chance arrangement of gravity'
Ed Krupp, director of the observatory, described it as a "typical copper red" total lunar eclipse.
Though rare, it's the sky "conspiring into a special event" that helps draw crowds, he said.
"The fact that there are four lunar successions coming this year and next ... is unusual," Krupp said. "But it's not the kind of thing astronomers get worked up about. It doesn't really mean anything. It's a chance arrangement of gravity and the motions of objects in the solar system, primarily the Earth and moon."
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to view with the naked eye and don't require special filters.
The rare sight and was virtually unheard of a few centuries ago.
Before the 20th century, there was a 300-year period when there were no blood moons, said Fred Espenak, a NASA eclipse expert.
"The most unique thing about the 2014-2015 tetrad is that all of them are visible for all or parts of the USA," he said.
Three more chances
If you missed it Tuesday, there will be more opportunities.
North America will see a blood moon four times -- known as a tetrad -- between now and September of next year. In addition to Tuesday, it will make another appearance on October 8 of this year, and April 4 and September 28 of next year.
Miss those, and you'll have to wait until 2032.
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