SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Finally, there's an astronomical event for all of us.
It won't take a telescope, filter, star chart or degree in rocket science to appreciate the total eclipse of the moon Thursday night. It will be visible above virtually all of North and South America, where the weather allows.
"It's perfect the way it's choreographed," said Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.
The eclipse begins at 9:03 p.m. EST Thursday with an imperceptibly encroaching shadow. It will reach its darkest phase between 11:05 p.m. and 12:22 a.m. Friday, when the moon reaches its height over the East Coast. In most places, the moon likely will dim to a dull charcoal or ruddy red, but it could disappear from some vantage points.
Many star clubs, planetariums and observatories intend to seize on the broad appeal of the eclipse with parties for mass watching. In the western Massachusetts city of Springfield, hundreds are expected to crane their necks from a downtown parking lot next to a science museum.
Most people are apt to take a peek from backyards or apartment windows.
The familiarity that people feel for the moon heightens the sense of wonder when it steps unaccountably behind a curtain. "It's almost like the clockwork of the heavens is suddenly revealed," said Richard Sanderson, a party organizer for the Springfield Stars Club.
The moon is eclipsed from the sun's light when it coasts through the shadow of Earth. The last total eclipse of the moon happened in September 1997.
Experienced sky watchers suggest watching for the first signs of darkening as the Earth's shadow advances from the moon's left side. The shadows may carry hints of green, blue or other colors, especially if inspected with binoculars.
Of course, if there is bad weather, "we'll just have to wait until next time," said Joe Rao, an astronomy lecturer at Hayden Planetarium in New York.
The next total eclipse will be best visible from the West Coast on July 16.