Photograph by The Yomiuri Shimbun, AP
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A total lunar eclipse on Saturday morning could turn the moon red, like this blood moon photographed over Tokyo in October 2014.

Photograph by The Yomiuri Shimbun, AP

This Week’s Night Sky: Moon Turns to Blood

A lunar eclipse will dazzle sky-watchers in the western half of North America.

As a new month begins this week, Earth’s satellite undergoes a dramatic disappearing act and Venus begins to migrate up the sunset skies for a visit with the Seven Sisters.

The moon joins Jupiter. The evening of Monday, March 30, starts with a stunning view in the southeast sky of the waxing gibbous moon hanging below the bright, cream-colored gas giant Jupiter.

The cosmic pair will be separated by only some 10 degrees—equal to the width of your fist at arm’s length—and will provide a great photo opportunity.

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Look toward the southeast in the early evening this Monday and spot the waxing gibbous moon gliding by Jupiter and the bright star Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion.

Luna meets lion’s heart. As night falls on Tuesday, March 31, look for the moon closer to the horizon, parked just beneath Regulus. This bright blue-white star marks the heart of the constellation Leo the Lion, and is easy to spot with the naked eye even from bright city neighborhoods.

The moon at times can eclipse the courageous feline’s heart. The last time it happened was in 2008, and it will occur again in December 2016. On rare occasions, the planet Venus can travel in front of the star. That last happened in 1959, and the next such occultation will grace the skies in October 2044.

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In this simulated orbital view of Venus, the distant Pleiades star cluster appears above the planet and the ruddy-colored Mars to the upper right.

Jovian moon dance. As an added cosmic bonus on late Tuesday night, North American sky-watchers can watch the tiny, round, dot-like shadow of Callisto, one of the main moons of Jupiter, creep across the disk of the planet. Those with backyard telescopes can view this show from 11:14 p.m. to 3:57 a.m. EDT the next morning.

Venus and Pleiades preview. About a half hour after sunset on Thursday, April 2, look westward for the brilliant goddess of love, Venus, hanging below the Pleiades star cluster.

The 360-light-year-distant stellar grouping, also known as the Seven Sisters, will appear only 8 degrees away from the planet in the sky. But keep an eye on the cosmic duo over the coming two weeks as Venus quickly closes the gap. The best sky show is yet to come, so stay tuned.

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Beacon-like Venus is located halfway up the southwestern sunset sky this week as it begins to close the gap with the Pleiades star cluster.

Lunar eclipse. A lunar disappearing act—the grand sky event of the week—occurs on the morning of Saturday, April 4, and will be visible from the western half of North America.

The moon will begin to enter Earth’s dark shadow at 3:16 a.m. PDT, when the first bite out of the moon’s disk becomes evident. The most dramatic part of the show, when the lunar disk takes on a dramatic orange-red hue, begins at 4:58 a.m. PDT, and this totality will last less than five minutes.

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On the evening after the lunar eclipse, the near full moon will park itself next to Spica, one of the brightest stars in the April sky and lead member of the constellation Virgo the Maiden.

Luna and Spica. By Saturday evening, the moon will have slid farther south, positioning itself next door to the 262-light-year-distant Spica, a bright star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden.

Happy hunting!

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