Every 6 months-ish there is a lunar eclipse visible somewhere on the planet Earth. While newspapers like to call these things rare, they just aren’t. What is rare is a nicely timed for prime time lunar eclipse.
For those of you who aren’t quite sure what causes a lunar eclipse, let me step back a second (everyone else, skip this paragraph). Every 29.53 days the Moon completes one orbit around the Earth relative to the Sun. Kevin Lee has created a neat applet of the moon’s orbit if you want to see things in action. The gist of it is simple. If the moon is between us and the Sun, we can’t see any of the part of the Moon that is being illuminated, so we have a new moon. In order for us to see a full Moon, we need to get out in front of the Moon (between and the Sun), and keep our own shadow out of the way in the process. The tilt of the moon’s orbit generally does this for us. As the moon goes around the Earth its orbit carries it North and South of the ecliptic – the line the Sun follows in the sky. The tilt of the moon’s orbit, like the tilt of the Earth, maintains a fairly constant orientation relative to the stars, which means the high end of the orbit only points toward the Sun once a year, and the low end of the orbit only points toward the Sun once a year. There are two mid-points, where the orbit crosses the Sun’s path, and these each also get their shot at pointing toward the Sun. When the moon is new and this intersection of orbit and Sun’s path on the sky occurs, we get a partial or full solar eclipse, and when the Moon is full, we get a lunar eclipse. (I tried really hard to find a copy-right free image to explain this and failed. If enough people ask for a graphic, I’ll create one). Anyway, we are about to have one of these twice a year alignments where the Earth gets directly between the moon and the Sun.
This Tuesday night (for my time zone – check here for more general times a lunar eclipse will begin at about 2:30 am and continue on into the dawn. This is not a user friendly time for me and my 9am meetings. It is admittedly even worth for those on the East Coast, and not at all visible for Europe.
However, if you are in South East Australia, New Zealand, or Indonesia, this is totally the total lunar eclipse for you. It will start just after Sunset and continue through the early evening. It will be high in the sky for those just north of the equator. This is a nice temperate time of year, and you really can’t ask for better.
Those of us on the other side of the world are just going to have to pout this one out.
I”m going to do my best to get some great images of this eclipse. The fully eclipsed moon will be close to setting, and I’ll be able to be set up with my cameras on a beach with the moon next to some lighthouses and piers. Should be a good show.
Heck, the next one is in February 2008. Not a very clear-skies friendly time in North America, especially the Midwest/Great Lakes USA.
Hey…what about Hawaii? Midnight eclipse here. Rare to see one at the mid-point of the sky – 60 degrees up.
Great animated visual of the eclipse found at
Darn these URL blockers. Google “Shadow and Substance” Lunar eclipse.
This evening I’ve seen the best lunar eclipse that I can remember. The last one that I was impressed with was when I was a child probably about 1970. As I write this I go about into my yard here in Brisbane, Aust. and all I can see through the wispy cloud that comes and goes is a deep red disc hanging in the sky. It’s just not the normal moon that I know so well.
Soon I expect to see a crescent illuminate on the edge of this disc just like I saw disappear earlier and the moon will return into the most brilliant silver disc that the evening start with.
Sydney was completely clear and the thing was majestic.
Man o man, it was gorgeous! It was a coppery-red color at the limbs, and more of a deep rust color in the center when I stopped looking at 03:00 PDT. Check out my complete observation log.
I did a LiveWebCast from Hungry Valley, CA (in the middle of the desert) using my mobile satellite-DSL equipped 4×4 van:
I never intended to do the webcast thing, it came upon me as I was sitting through the partial umbral phase: Why not deploy the satellite dish (5 min operation) & start blogging? I was also surprised at the dramatic effect of the “stars coming out” during totality. One needs to experience a lunar eclipse in the outback (away from city lights).
I got some interesting wide-angle shots with the eclipsed moon against stars & Milky Way, those images will be posted soon. Also shot some video.
I wonder why I never even heard of the March 2007 total lunar eclipse, which I could have watched with the BEST view (in Africa) but I didn’t – because I didn’t know. Nowadays, ever since I got my feed-reader tuned to science-related things, I can pay attention to these rare events. Now this eclipse is over – I couldn’t watch it anyway since it would be late morning and the moon is below the horizon. [Sigh]
I got up, and took pictures out my window Don’t expect HST quality – i have a cheap point and shoot digital, and shot these hand held.
This event was amazing here in Southern California. My friend woke up at 3:00am and watched it go from full eclipse red to a bright full moon over the Pacific Ocean in Venice just South of Santa Monica. He reports a beautiful event with reflections on the beach.
“What is rare is a nicely timed for prime time lunar eclipse.”
Say what???! This would have to be the best (or worst) example I’ve seen in ages for why proper punctuation is so damn important! (And frankly, I would have expected much better from a self-proclaimed “writer”.) It took me about ten seconds to work out what on earth you were trying to get across here. How about:
“What is rare is a nicely timed-for-prime-time lunar eclipse.”
just witnessed the february 20 lunar eclipse yesterday, and it was amazing. skies were beautiful and clear here in cleveland, OH. The total eclipse was really something to see.
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