April 9, 2014 3:48 pm

Moon-orbiting satellite to shut down during lunar eclipse

Watch the video above: Understanding lunar eclipses

TORONTO – On the night of April 14-15, we are in for a treat across Canada — a lunar eclipse.

Eclipses, once feared as bad omens, are now understood as something that occurs fairly regularly.

READ MORE: April 15 starts off the year of eclipses

During lunar eclipses, the moon passes through the shadow of Earth. When this happens, the moon doesn’t disappear completely. Instead, as it passes through the Earth’s shadow, it turns a reddish colour. This is due to sunlight scattering through our atmosphere and being reflected from the moon’s surface.

The path of a lunar eclipse. The penumbra is the lighter part of Earth’s shadow, while the umbra is the complete shadow.

F. Espenak, Observer's Handbook - 2014, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

But the eclipse causes a little inconvenience for one satellite in orbit around the moon, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). When the moon is plunged into darkness, LRO will be, too  — and it needs sunlight to recharge its batteries.

Though LRO has been in orbit during a lunar eclipse before, this time it must pass through the moon’s shadow twice.

WATCH: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the lunar eclipse

“We’re taking precautions to make sure everything is fine,” Noah Petro, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said. “We’re turning off the instruments and will monitor the spacecraft every few hours when it’s visible from Earth.”

NASA engineers will shut down its instruments to save batteries during the eclipse, but they aren’t worried that LRO will encounter any issues.

The best part is that Canada will be in the best place for viewing the eclipse. But you’ll have to get up early: This lunar eclipse will peak around 3:45 a.m. EDT on April 15.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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