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Saturday, March 03, 2007

TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, MARCH 3 2007

(This post has been date-stamped to stay on top until after the actual event.)

There will be a total lunar eclipse after sunset on this Saturday, March 3, 2007. (Depending on where in the world you live, it may actually take place in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 4.)

This eclipse will be visible in whole or in part from every continent in the world, although extreme northwestern Canada, all of Alaska, extreme northeastern Asia, the eastern fifth of Australia (sorry, Sammie!), and any location in the Pacific Ocean (including all of New Zealand and Hawaii) will miss out on the fun. The eclipse will be visible in its entirety, from beginning to end, for observers in Europe (including Iceland and most of Greenland), the U.K., Africa, and the Middle East.

In "Universal Time" the moon will begin to enter Penumbra, the outer portion of the Earth's shadow, at 20:16 (3:16 PM here in Pennsylvania - at which point the moon, which is always full during a lunar eclipse, will still be well below the Eastern horizon). This is the dimmest part of the eclipse, and even if you live in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, Eurasia, or Asia, where the moon will actually be visible at this time, you might not even be able to tell anything odd is happening until nearly an hour later.

Assuming you can see the moon, you will really start to notice things around 21:30 UT (4:30 PM Eastern Time) as the moon starts to edge into the Umbra, the inner, darker potion of the Earth's shadow. It will be during this phase that the partially eclipsed moon will rise over the Eastern horizon here in NEPA. I have watched a partially eclipsed moon rise once before, back in 1992, when I was carpooling with a friend to the place where we had both just started working.

At 22:44 UT (5:44 PM Eastern time) the moon will enter totality, where it will stay for the next hour and 14 minutes. If you can, try to observe the moon for at least a half-hour before the start of totality. The change from a partial eclipse to a total eclipse is striking and dramatic, even though it is very gradual. And definitely observe the moon during totality with binoculars or a telescope. There is nothing quite like looking at our nearest celestial neighbor, usually so blindingly bright, sitting like a burned-out cinder in the sky.

What color the moon will be is always a surprise and will depend on atmospheric conditions around the Earth's limb - the ring of the atmosphere through which the sun (which is totally eclipsed from the point of view of the moon) will be refracting. I have seen the moon turn dark amber, and purple, and brown, and nearly black. If you observe it, note what color it appears to you, and leave a comment about it.

BONUS: The moon will be parked in the vicinity of the constellation Leo, near the giant backwards question mark that indicates the head and mane of the lion. (Or it could just as easily indicate the lion's butt. I'm lousy with figuring out constellations.) Seeing the darkened hulk of the moon sitting against a field of stars, stars that are normally washed out by the blinding light of the moon (well, the light of the sun reflected from the surface of the moon, which curiously has a reflectivity approximately equal to that of an asphalt parking lot!), is a striking and memorable experience.

And then, at 23:58 UT (6:58 PM ET), the moon will leave totality, and over the next hour and a half the moon will gradually move out of the Earth's shadow and back into the light.

For more information:
March's Moon Mania, article from skytonight.com, Sky & Telescope's website
Total lunar eclipse March 3, article from astronomy.com, Astronomy Magazine's website

6 comments:

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I love lunar eclipses! Thanks for the heads up and have a great weekend!

hedera said...

We in California, unfortunately, will miss most of it because it will all happen during daylight. Sniff.

dee said...

The last one of these I can remember was many many years ago, about 11 at night. I was staying out in the country and I went outside to watch the total lunar eclipse. It was...creepy. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed EVERYTHING got very, very quiet. Even the yappy little dogs I was watching.

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Thanks for the reminder!

D.B. Echo said...

Bummer. We were clouded out. Since the moon rose during totality, we couldn't even locate the moon until it had begun to slip out of the Earth's shadow. Actually, the clouds didn't part and thin enough for us until after 8:00. Still, we got to see some of the eclipse!

dee said...

I got to see some of it, too! I'm so glad you reminded us of this. I've got some pictures up on the blog.