Early Tuesday morning, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow and could cast a blood-red hue visible to the naked eye.
The first of four eclipses this year offers something magnificent to anyone who wouldn't mind spending a few sleepless hours getting lost in the night sky, said Bill Kreiger, professor of earth sciences and science education at York College.
"It gives people a chance to look up and take their mind off the problems of the world, see something in nature. Maybe it will make people feel a little better," he said.
Local residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the lunar eclipse can see it begin just before 1 a.m. Tuesday. The peak of the eclipse is expected around 3:45 a.m., and it will end at about 6:30 a.m., Kreiger said.
Three more eclipses are expected this year: an annular solar eclipse on April 29, a total lunar eclipse on Oct. 8 and a partial solar eclipse on Oct. 23.
A lunar eclipse takes hours, whereas a solar eclipse takes minutes.
Old beliefs: But eclipses weren't always a sight to behold.
"Imagine being part of an ancient Egyptian, Celtic or Mayan culture who didn't know what was happening and were terrified that the brilliant, white moon — that they might have worshipped as a god — was slowly but surely disappearing and replaced by what's called a 'blood moon.' Pretty scary stuff even as late as the Middle Ages," said Greg Markowski, vice president of the York County Astronomical Society.
Ancient cultures often believed an eclipse was nature's warning to man, a bad omen, Kreiger said.
"People thought the sun and moon were fighting," he said.
Some believed a giant sea monster was eating the sun, and Cherokee Indians thought a frog was swallowing the sun, Kreiger said.
"It's nice to know these stories of our ancestors because they connect us to the past," he said.
For example, the earth-sun relationship, and the moon's position, still determines the church calendar, Kreiger said.
"That's why Easter hops around like a bunny," he said.
Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.
Anyone can watch: That holiday will be celebrated Sunday, April 20, but first Kreiger and Markowski will be watching the eclipse.
"I also hope to convince my wife and daughter that it's worth the effort for them to get out of bed," Markowski said.
It will be visible for everyone in the Americas, provided they have clear skies, he said.
"And it doesn't make any difference if you live in the country or a city. You don't even need a telescope or binoculars to watch a lunar eclipse," Markowski said.
Kreiger will be watching for the colors, he said.
"I'll be paying attention to the color of the moon. Pollution from the Earth's atmosphere creates colors like the reds and oranges and purples you see in a sunset or sunrise," he said.
Pollution and particles get into the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, dry periods, dust storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and more.
"There can be something good that comes from disasters. They make beautiful colors," Kreiger said.