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Blood moon, total lunar eclipse 2018 take over Friday skies

Friday brings a rare double-billing of spectacular celestial shows. Some people will be able to see both in person, and there's also a way for everyone to watch.

Blood moon
This still from a NASA video shows a blood moon.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

It's going to be a red-light district in the sky Friday, but don't worry: It will be a completely wholesome and family-friendly event consisting only of heavenly bodies. Two, in fact. 

Mars will shine bright all night at its closest point to Earth since 2003 and much of the globe will also see a total lunar eclipse turn our satellite into an orange-red "blood moon."

You can watch both the Red Planet and red moon show off live online on Friday.  

You may have already noticed Mars after dark in recent weeks, looking like a bright star wearing a lot of rouge. It's been working its way toward the closest it's been to Earth in about 15 years.

It'll technically reach that point July 31, but on Friday will be at "opposition," appearing directly opposite the sun from our cosmic vantage point.  As a result, the Red Planet will rise at sunset and stay in the sky until sunrise.

"When you first spot Mars rising in the east after sunset, you'll be startled by how bright it looks," says Sky & Telescope's Observing Editor Diana Hannikainen. "Its pale orange color is unmistakable."  

The moon will also take on a reddish-orange look Friday night for longer than at any time in the next century.

This is thanks to the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, which is set to go down July 27. In fact, it's probably the longest such event between now and 2123, according to NASA's catalog of such things.

Now playing: Watch this: The planets are aligned for a lunar eclipse, blood moon...

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon are in a line, casting the reddish-orange shadow of our planet onto the surface of the moon.  This is why a total lunar eclipse is often referred to as a "blood moon."

The scientific explanation for the creepy, red-tinted satellite is admittedly a little less exciting than the more hysterical explanation from ancient times: that some kind of huge, unseen dragon in the sky is going to attempt to devour the moon but ultimately fail.

Whatever your favored explanation, it's happening this month and it'll last for a whopping 1 hour and 43 minutes. But there's a catch: It'll be visible only in parts of South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The map below from NASA provides an idea of where to plan your travel for the best blood moon viewing.

The areas in white indicate where the entire 103 minutes of the total lunar eclipse will be visible July 27.


To figure out exactly when to watch for the total lunar eclipse where you are, you can plug your location into NASA's Lunar Eclipse Explorer for all the details. 

If you can't catch this blood moon, don't worry. The next one comes in January and will be visible from Europe and the Americas.

First published July 11, 3:31 p.m. PT
Update, July 25 at 1:34 p.m.: Swaps in new headline; adds info on Mars opposition.