Lunar eclipse could doom NASA's LADEE moon orbiter

Stargazers across the country are looking forward to the first eclipse of the year -- but this one could claim a space casualty.

The total lunar eclipse will take place in the pre-dawn hours next Tuesday morning, when the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow. It will be visible throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, if the weather is clear. The total phase will last 78 minutes, beginning at 3:06 a.m. EDT and ending at 4:24 a.m. EDT.

Safe to watch with the naked eye, the lunar eclipse should cast a bright orange or red tint across the moon.

Not safe from the eclipse, however, may be a NASA spacecraft that's been circling the moon since fall. The robotic orbiter LADEE was never designed to endure a lengthy eclipse, and scientists don't know if it can withstand the prolonged cold of the hours-long eclipse.

LADEE -- which stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer -- was nearing the end of its mission anyway. Whether it freezes up Tuesday or not, LADEE will crash into the far side of the moon the following week as planned, after successfully completing its science mission.

Scientists expect LADEE's doomsday to occur on or before April 21, and NASA has started an online contest asking the public to guess the impact time.

The lunar eclipse on Tuesday will be the first of four eclipses expected within the next year: two lunar and two solar. The next one will occur April 29, when the Southern Hemisphere will be treated to a solar eclipse.


Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App