Stargazers enjoy shortest total lunar eclipse of the century

Posted at 11:46 AM, Apr 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-06 11:46:59-04

(CNN) -- The third blood moon in a four-part series was the shortest eclipse of the bunch, but still a sweet treat for early risers in North America.

The moon slipped fully into Earth's shadow at 4:58 a.m. Pacific Time (7:58 a.m. ET) Saturday, starting a total lunar eclipse for nearly five minutes -- what NASA says will be the shortest such eclipse of the century.

The celestial body took on a burnt-orange tint in the minutes before, during and after the total eclipse, giving the moon the appearance that earns total eclipses the "blood moon" nickname.

Watchers in the eastern half of North America caught only a partial eclipse -- and in some places, an orange one -- before the moon set below the horizon.

The event started at 3:16 a.m. PT (6:16 a.m. ET), when the moon began moving into Earth's shadow.

"The lunar eclipse is looking good!" tweeted Ryan Hoke, a meteorologist for CNN affiliate WAVE in Louisville, Kentucky, showing a picture of a reddish partial moon in a blue dawn sky.

People from the U.S. West Coast to Australia were able to catch the total eclipse.

Parts of South America, India, China and Russia were able to see at least parts of the event, but it wasn't visible in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, Africa or the Middle East.

A lunar eclipse happens when the sun, Earth and moon form a straight line in space, with the Earth smack in the middle.

The sun shines on the Earth and creates a shadow. As the moon moves deeper into that shadow, it appears to turn dark and may even appear to be a reddish color. Why red? Because Earth's atmosphere is filtering out most of the blue light.

NASA says lunar eclipses typically happen at least twice a year, but this eclipse is the third in a series of four in a row, known as a "tetrad." The first was April 15, 2014, and the second was October 23, 2014. The space agency predicts the next one will come September 28.