Pittsburgh will witness a rare lunar eclipse Sunday.
The "superblood" moon will feature a rare marriage of several lunar phenomena: a harvest moon, which occurs in the late summer or fall; a supermoon, much closer to the Earth at about 225,000 miles away; and a blood moon, noted by its red-copper coloring during the eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes within the Earth’s shadow. It's regarded as safer to view than a solar eclipse, which requires indirect viewing to prevent damage to the observer’s eyes.
Western Pennsylvania usually experiences only one lunar eclipse every two to three years, according to Dan Malerbo, education and program coordinator for the Buhl Planetarium at Carnegie Science Center.
“We’ve been very lucky; we’ve had four in the last two years,” he said.
Sometimes the moon skirts the Earth's shadow and other times goes directly into it. It depends where the centers of the moon and Earth are, respectively, Malerbo said.
“We don’t have an eclipse every month basically because the moon’s orbit is tilted about five degrees to the Earth’s orbit around the sun,” he said. “So the moon goes in and out of what is called the ecliptic plane.”
Sunday’s lunar event will be a total lunar eclipse, meaning the entire moon will pass through Earth’s darkest shadow. They're easy to spot, Malerbo said, because the moon turns coppery red, and this weekend, should appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than normal.
The Carnegie Science Center is hosting a free Lunar Eclipse Skywatch to celebrate.
“We’ll be doing play-by-play, so to speak, of what’s going on, and we’ll also have a couple telescopes set up so people can take a closer look at the moon," he said. "Though this is not a telescope event, this is just ‘go outside and look up.’ But we will have some telescopes available, and you will be guided by the talented staff here at the Buhl Planetarium.”
There’s no need to bring any equipment, he said, except maybe a chair to sit on. Attendees may also bring their own telescopes.