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March 3: Total Lunar Eclipse

(Disclaimer: this post has absolutely nothing to do with online marketing. )

From a friendly email from UVA Professor Randy Bell, info on tomorrow night’s total lunar eclipse.

Folks,

The best opportunity to view a total lunar eclipse in recent years occurs this Saturday evening (March 3) from sunset until about 8:00pm.

Lunar eclipses occur on those occasions when the moon is full and perfectly lined up with the earth and sun. This alignment doesn’t happen every month, so the events are somewhat rare and special.

The moon will already be totally immersed in the earth’s shadow when it rises this Saturday evening at about 6:10pm. Even so, you will still be able to see it (some sunlight still gets to the moon via refraction through the earth’s atmosphere). However, its brightness will be greatly diminished, and it will likely take on an eerie red or coppery hue (again, due to the fact that the only sunlight reaching the moon is what is refracted through the earth’s atmosphere).

The moon will be rising almost due East. Looking east a little after sunset, you’ll likely first see a bright “star” a couple of “fists” above the horizon. This is the planet Saturn. The moon will be lower in the sky than Saturn, but in the same direction. (The apparent distance betweenSaturn and the moon will be about the same as the distance between the thumb and little finger of your outstretched hand at arm’s length).

It may be difficult to find the moon at first, due to its dimness, and the fact that the sky will still be bright with twilight until about 6:40 pm or so. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the moon at first. Give it a little more time for the moon to get higher and the sky to get darker and try again.

The moon will begin exiting the darkest part of the earth’s shadow at about 7pm. For the next hour, you will see the moon appear to pass through half of its phases (from waxing crescent to first quarter, to gibbous to full). Amazing!

At about 8:10pm the best part of the show is over, and the moon will appear full. Notice how much brighter the moon is now, compared to when it was rising in total eclipse.

You don’t need any special equipment to view the eclipse (although binoculars are nice to have). Probably the best method is to simply go out several times between, say, 6:30pm and 8:00pm to see how the moon’s appearance has changed.

Here’s hoping for clear skies Saturday night –

Randy

Info relative to Virginia, USA, in Eastern Time, UTC-5.

Good eclipses are rare — looking forward to seeing this!

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