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Seattle lunar eclipse
A total lunar eclipse shines dully over Seattle’s Space Needle in 2008. (Credit: Clane Gessel)

Sunday’s super-sized total lunar eclipse is special for a couple of reasons, but it’s extra-special for places like Seattle, where the timing is perfect for family viewing.

“I love it when these astronomical events are at a good time,” said Alice Enevoldsen, an astronomy educator whose home base is in West Seattle. “It’s in the evening … but not yet bedtime for little kids.”

Lunar eclipses are among the most accessible astronomical events out there: When Earth casts its shadow on the full moon’s disk, half the world can watch it — and the show usually lasts for an hour or more, in contrast to the mere minutes of duration for a total solar eclipse. (Check out this interactive feature to learn more about lunar eclipses.)

This eclipse is making headlines in part because it takes place when the full moon’s apparent size is at its maximum for the year — a so-called supermoon. Supermoons are about 7 percent bigger and 16 percent brighter than the average full moon. NASA says the most recent supermoon lunar eclipse was in 1982, and the next time will be in 2033. (However, depending on your definition of a “supermoon,” such an eclipse came in 1997 and is due in 2021 as well.)

For Seattleites, Sunday’s show begins with moonrise at 6:54 p.m. PT, when the eclipse’s partial phase is already well underway. If you’re lucky, you can catch the show’s climax at 7:11 p.m., when the last sliver of the moon’s bright disk gives way to a dull red glow.

That “blood moon” appearance — plus the fact that this is the last of an unusual tetrad of four lunar eclipses — gave rise to a round of doomsday predictions. But the only thing you have to fear from this eclipse is the risk of missing the key moment, either because you’re in the wrong place or because of Seattle’s fickle weather.

On the weather front, the outlook is hopeful: Sunday’s forecast calls for clear or mostly clear skies that evening. The main issue has to do with your viewing location. Because the total eclipse occurs so soon after sunset, you should find a place with a clear view to the eastern horizon.

“You want to watch the beginning, so that means you want to be east-facing,” Enevoldsen said. For her, that means meeting up with friends at the corner of 47th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Edmunds Street. But there are plenty of good vantage points in the area, including Seattle’s Hamilton ViewpointBoren Park and Lake Washington Boulevard Park as well as the Eastside’s Newcastle Golf Club.

This chart shows the main events for Sunday's total lunar eclipse. Due to the moon's slightly off-center path through Earth's umbra, the southern half of its disk should look slightly brighter during totality than the northern half. (Credit: Sky and Telescope)
This chart shows the main events for Sunday’s total lunar eclipse. Due to the moon’s slightly off-center path through Earth’s umbra, the southern half of its disk should look slightly brighter during totality than the northern half. (Credit: Sky and Telescope)

Because this eclipse comes so close to the autumn equinox, the moon should rise almost due east — which makes it easier for photographers to plan what else they want to get in the picture. For example, to get the eclipsed moon rising over Mount Rainier, you’ll want to find a clear eastward view from, say, Olympia. For more about snapping eclipse pics, check out NASA photographer Bill Ingalls’ tips. (Share your pictures on the Cosmic Blog Facebook page.)

Wherever you are, take plenty of time to enjoy the show: The eclipse reaches its peak point at 7:47 p.m., and starts moving out of Earth’s shadow at 8:23 p.m. By 10:22 p.m. Sunday night, the best supermoon of the year will be shining in its full glory.

Thanks to photographer Clane Gessel for sharing his picture of the 2008 lunar eclipse over Seattle’s Space Needle. For more about the lunar eclipse, check out Sky & Telescope’s preview.

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