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Sunday's lunar eclipse will also feature a 'Supermoon'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/22/2015 Doyle Rice
Aircraft passes in front of a Supermoon rising over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa July 12, 2014. © Blair Gable/REUTERS Aircraft passes in front of a Supermoon rising over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa July 12, 2014.

It hasn't happened in 32 years, and won't for another 18 years: Sunday evening, a total lunar eclipse will coincide with a "Supermoon." 

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is between the full moon and the sun. The Earth's shadow covers the moon, which often has a red color, hence the "blood" moon nickname.

Although it's completely in the shadow of Earth, a bit of reddish sunlight still reaches the moon. 

"That red light shining onto the moon is sunlight that has skimmed and bent through Earth's atmosphere: that is, from all the sunrises and sunsets that ring the world at any given moment," according to Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope magazine.

The total eclipse will start at 10:11 p.m. EDT (7:11 p.m. PDT) Sunday evening and will last one hour and 12 minutes. It will be visible across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific, NASA said.

Weather permitting, folks in the eastern half of North America can watch every stage of the eclipse, from beginning to end of the partial phases, with the moon mostly high in the sky, Sky and Telescope reports.

In the West, the first partial stage of the eclipse will already be in progress when the moon rises in the east around sunset. 

You don't need special glasses or gizmos to view it, unlike a solar eclipse, so feel free to stare directly at the moon. Binoculars or a telescope would improve the view.

YOUR TAKE:  Share your photos of the eclipse!

And what does a Supermoon mean? It just means the moon looks a bit bigger than usual since its a bit closer to the Earth than usual. "Because the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle, the moon is sometimes closer to the Earth than at other times during its orbit," NASA scientist Noah Petro said in a statement.

"There’s no physical difference in the moon," Petro added. "It just appears slightly bigger in the sky. It’s not dramatic, but it does look larger."

It's about 14% larger than normal, NASA reports.

What is uncommon is for a total lunar eclipse to coincide with a Supermoon. There have been just five such events since 1900 (in 1910, 1928, 1946, 1964 and 1982), NASA said. 

This is the last total lunar eclipse visible anywhere on Earth until 2018, according to Sky and Telescope. Americans will actually see a total solar eclipse (in Aug. 2017) before the next total lunar eclipse.

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