By the clock

1:58 a.m. Partial eclipse begins

3:07 a.m. Total eclipse begins

3:46 a.m. Greatest eclipse

4:25 a.m. Total eclipse ends

5:34 a.m. Partial eclipse ends

Astronomer Terry Richardson

If the clouds should break early Tuesday morning, a blood red moon might appear. Don't be alarmed: It's just the beginning of the end. Besides, it's not likely the clouds will break.

A total lunar eclipse occurs about 3 a.m. Tuesday, with the shadow of the earth starting to cross the moon's surface a few minutes before 2 a.m. The eclipsed moon, shaded from sunlight by the Earth passing between it and the sun, sometimes has a ghoulish reddish cast and has been called a blood moon.

They are considered rare, but as astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson noted on Twitter, total lunar eclipses are about as rare as the Olympics. The last one occurred overhead in 2012. The next one occurs ... um ... well, that's where the end of the world comes in.

The next total lunar eclipse visible in North America occurs in early October, followed by a partial solar eclipse in late October, followed by a partial lunar eclipse in April 2015.

Disconcerted? You haven't heard the half of it yet.

This sequence of eclipses - all within a single year of the Jewish religious calender (hang with me here) - follows an unusual alignment last Tuesday of the sun, Earth and Mars. And Monday night's get-the-ball-rolling eclipse occurs during Mars' closest approach to Earth.

That's got end-timers antsy.

Televangelist Pastor John Hagee is telling people to beware of an earth-shaking event between now and October 15, 2015.

It has to do with blood moons falling on Passover and Sukkot, a more obscure Jewish holiday, and dire things that happened to the Jewish people in the past when they did.

"Every heavenly body is controlled by the unseen hand of God, which signals coming events to humanity," Hagee says on his website. "There are no solar or lunar accidents."

The web page also promotes Hagee's book, not so coincidentally titled "Four Blood Moons, Something Is About to Change."

The incongruity is that four eclipses occurring in a relative row isn't all that apocalyptic. It happened last in 2003-2004 and will happen again seven more times this century, according to space.com.

"Eclipses are just like clockwork," College of Charleston Astronomer Terry Richardson noted. Even the planetary alignment "is just a matter of cycles. The planetary cycle just happens to be occurring in line with the eclipse cycle, he said.

So, does that cloud up the future enough for you? Best check in the wee morning hours to get a clear read on it, if you can.

"It's going to be pretty cloudy," said meteorologist Brett Cimbora of the National Weather Service, Charleston. Any chance of a break in the clouds? "Not a good one."

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.