Lunar eclipse coming early Tuesday
August 27, 2007
DENVER – The Earth’s shadow will creep across the moon’s surface early Tuesday, slowly eclipsing the moon and causing it to turn shades of orange and red.
The total lunar eclipse, the second this year, will be visible in North and South America – especially in the West – as well as the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The forecast for early Tuesday morning in Aspen, however, calls for a chance of rain and cloud cover of 65 to 75 percent, which may obscure the show.
It won’t be visible in Europe, Africa or the Middle East because the moon will have set when the eclipse begins at 4:51 a.m. EDT. Observers in those regions had the best view of the last total lunar eclipse in March.
An eclipse occurs when Earth passes between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun’s light. It’s rare because the moon is usually either above or below the plane of Earth’s orbit.
Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth’s shadow taking a bigger and bigger “bite” out of the moon, then totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, lasts about 3 1/2 hours, said Doug Duncan, director of the University of Colorado’s Fiske Planetarium. The total eclipse phase, in which the moon has an orange or reddish glow, lasts about 1 1/2 hours.
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The full eclipse will be visible across the United States, but East Coast viewers will get about a half-hour to see it before the sun begins to rise and the moon sets. Skywatchers in the West will get the full show.
In eastern Asia, the moon will rise in various stages of eclipse.
During the full eclipse, the moon won’t be completely dark because some light still reaches it around the edges of the Earth. The light is refracted as it passes through our atmosphere, scattering blue light – which is why the sky is blue – but sending reddish light on to the moon.
“When someone asks why is it (the moon) red, you can say because the sky is blue,” Duncan said.
The next total lunar eclipse occurs Feb. 21, 2008, and will be visible from the Americas, Europe and Asia.