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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: lunar eclipse (4)

Total Lunar Eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
2 April 2015
Comments (0)

A total lunar eclipse will be visible from across all Australia this Saturday, April 4. But it will be a quick one. Rather than passing deep into the Earth’s shadow, the moon is skimming close to the shadow’s edge, as seen in this animation.

Total Lunar Eclipse - December 2011 The moon moves out of totality as seen from Sydney during the December 2011 eclipse.
Image: Neerav Bhatt
Source: Neerav Bhatt/flicr

The period of totality, when the moon is fully enclosed in the Earth’s umbral shadow, will last just five minutes or so. This makes it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

In fact, this eclipse has the shortest period of totality for almost 500 years. Back in 1529, on October 17, there was an eclipse where totality lasted for just 1 minute and 42 seconds.

The moon's passage through the Earth's shadow The moon skims the edge of the Earth’s umbral shadow. Note: this graphic is oriented for the southern hemisphere.
Source: Museum Victoria

How to see it?

The great thing about lunar eclipses is that no special equipment is required to view them. Just look for the moon, which will be visible in the north-eastern sky, weather permitting.

Eclipse timings Local circumstances for the eclipse.
Source: Museum Victoria

From Western Australia, the eclipse begins shortly after sunset with the moon low to the eastern horizon. However, by the time of totality the moon will have risen to a great vantage point.

For the rest of Australia, the eclipse occurs an hour or two after sunset.

The whole event will last for three-and-a-half hours – it’s only the moment of totality that will be very short.

Total Lunar Eclipse - April 2014 The moon disappears into shadow during the total lunar eclipse of April 2014.
Image: Phil Hart
Source: Phil Hart

Watching the moon slowly enter into the Earth’s shadow is always an amazing sight. And it’s during this partial phase of the eclipse that the shadow appears lovely and dark – seen in sharp contrast to the part of the moon which is still in sunlight.

Because totality is very brief and the moon sits so close to the shadow’s edge, this eclipse will not give us a deep red moon. Instead, we will likely see a variation in tone across the face of the moon.

The southern region of the moon – the topmost part as viewed from Australia – travels deeper through the shadow and should take on a reddish-orange glow. Whereas the northern part (or the bottom of the moon) that skims the shadow’s edge, will remain fairly bright.

Total Lunar Eclipse - October 2014 The moment the moon enters totality during the October 2014 lunar eclipse. A similar variation in colour across the moon is expected for this upcoming eclipse.
Image: Martin George
Source: Martin George

Where the shadows lie

What’s interesting to note about this eclipse, is that it’s a great test for eclipse modellers. It’s not surprising, that there is no sharp edge to the Earth’s shadow and therefore the timings of this eclipse are highly dependent on the model used to estimate the shadow’s size.

This was first recorded in the early 18th century when the French astronomer and mathematician Philippe de La Hire realised that to match the timings of a lunar eclipse, it was necessary to increase the predicted radius of the Earth’s shadow by 2.4%.

In fact, observations of lunar eclipses over the next 200 years showed that the size of the Earth’s shadow varied slightly from one eclipse to another.

By the late 19th century a standard value of 2% was adopted as the most effective increase to be made to the Earth’s shadow size to produce the best predictions for an eclipse.

The ‘fuzziness’ of the Earth’s shadow is due to a number of factors such as the sun’s apparent size and the transparency of the Earth’s atmosphere. Eclipse models also have to take into account the fact that the Earth isn’t completely round, but flattened slightly towards the poles. And even the Earth’s axial tilt can add a small variation in the size of the Earth’s shadow depending on what season it is on Earth.

But for most lunar eclipses, these variations have a small effect on the eclipse timings, amounting to differences of the order of 20 seconds or so. But because this eclipse occurs so close to the edge of the Earth’s shadow the model used is much more critical.

Timey wimey

For this article, I’ve sourced the eclipse timings from NASA’s eclipse website maintained by Fred Espanek, a retired astrophysicist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. His Earth shadow model is the smallest and gives the shortest period of totality at 4 minutes and 38 seconds.

But it’s not surprising that other reputable eclipse models are found to give different results. Australian David Herald is the author of the fantastic Occult program that predicts all types of occultation events (such as the Saturn occultations we saw last year), and it also predicts eclipses. The latest version of his program (Occult4), measures totality for this eclipse as lasting 7 minutes and 14 seconds.

While the longest measurement of totality is sourced from the U. S. Naval Observatory. Their lunar eclipse computer gives a prediction of 12 minutes and 18 seconds.

But what will we see?

What this highlights for me, is the beauty of nature. We can do our best to predict what will happen, but sometimes we just don’t know for certain until we see the event itself. And it’s one of the lovely things about lunar eclipses that each one is unique.

With this eclipse, it is the path through the Earth’s shadow which makes it particularly different. But what can also affect eclipses is how dusty the Earth’s atmosphere is at the time. The dustier the atmosphere the more light is blocked.

That’s when the moon can turn a really deep red, like it did 2011 when the atmosphere was full of ash from the eruption of Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Cualle volcano.

Even nonlocal weather conditions can affect the appearance of a lunar eclipse. Storm systems and poor weather in the part of the world where the sun ‘disappears’ as seen from the moon, will make the atmosphere less transparent. In particular, if it’s a very deep eclipse and the moon passes right through the centre of the Earth’s shadow, such weather systems can help to deepen the Earth’s shadow so that the eclipsed moon becomes almost impossible to see.

So why not try your hand at timing this eclipse event and see which model gives the best prediction for you?

And while you are watching the eclipse, the star to the right of the moon is called Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. While in the east Saturn will be visible at the head of Scorpius and over in the north-west Jupiter can be found shining brightly.

But if the weather doesn’t cooperate in your local area, you can also follow the eclipse via live streaming by Sydney Observatory, Slooh or the Virtual Telescope.

Most importantly, this lunar eclipse is well worth a look because it will be a while before we get the chance to see another. The next lunar eclipse to be seen from Australia is a partial one on August 7, 2017 and only 25% of the Moon’s diameter will be in shadow. The next total lunar eclipse won’t occur until January 31, 2018.

Many thanks to Martin George, Curator of Astronomy and Assistant Director, Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, for very useful discussions that improved this article.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Two eclipses for April

by Tanya
Publish date
11 April 2014
Comments (2)

Not one, but two eclipses will occur this month and both are partially visible from Melbourne.

Just before sunset on the 15th April, the Moon will rise already totally eclipsed. It should look quite eerie to see a red moon rising above the eastern horizon and it's always amazing how bright the Moon appears as it moves out of the Earth's shadow and returns to its usual splendour. While you are watching the eclipse, be sure to take a look at Mars, which will be just to the left of the Moon and the bright star Spica (in the constellation of Virgo) that will be found just above.

Lunar Eclipse The progression of a total lunar eclipse in August 2007.
Image: Phil Hart

Two weeks later on the 29th April, the Moon and Sun will come together in the sky and we'll see a partial solar eclipse. The eclipse will begin during the afternoon and reach its maximum point just before sunset. At the height of the eclipse 64% of the Sun's diameter will be covered by the Moon. The Sun will still be partially eclipsed as it sets below the western horizon.

Solar Eclipse The Moon takes a bite out of the Sun.
Image: Phil Hart

The timings for both the lunar and solar eclipse can be found from the Planetarium's monthly newsletter – Skynotes – which is a great guide for finding your way around the night sky.

Importantly, lunar eclipses are lovely to watch and you don't need any special equipment. Solar eclipses, on the other hand, require a bit of care and planning. Never look directly at the Sun.

There are safe ways to watch a solar eclipse and the easiest is to purchase special eclipse glasses. They are available from the Scienceworks shop and will allow you to watch the event, while protecting your eyesight.

You can also create a simple "pinhole" projection. It's as easy as making a small pinhole in a piece of paper or cardboard. Do not look through the hole, but allow the Sun to shine through and project an image onto a second piece of cardboard. Even a blank wall or a clear patch of ground can make a good surface for projection.

And as I've mentioned previously on the Museum's blog, sometimes nature helps out too. If you can see sunlight travelling through the leaves of a tree, you’ve got yourself some ready-made pinhole projections. Check the ground and it might be covered with little crescent Sun images, just like this great example from the Astronomy magazine website.

Partial lunar eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
2 June 2012
Comments (1)

Tonight the Moon, Earth and Sun will fall into line to create a partial lunar eclipse. Between the hours of 8pm and 10pm, a small section near the top of the Moon will plunge into the Earth's shadow.

This event has been somewhat overshadowed (ha! ha!) by the Transit of Venus that occurs on Wednesday. But I must say, that I have a particular love of lunar eclipses. I think it's because they happen at night - so not only do you get to see the eclipse, but you can also check out the starry night sky.

9pm, 4 June 2012 The eclipsed Moon will be found below the constellation of Scorpius, at 9pm on 4 June (created using the Starry Night software).
Source: Museum Victoria

This eclipse will occur in the eastern sky, with the Moon just beneath the constellation of Scorpius - one of the constellations that really is true to its name. Looking at the curving line of stars, it is easy to picture a Scorpion up there in the sky. And if you are away from city lights, then you'll see the brightest part of the Milky Way, which lies towards the Scorpion's tail.

The other great thing about lunar eclipses is that you don't need any special equipment at all to view them. Just a clear night sky and the willingness to spend some time outdoors, marveling that we are part of a much larger Universe.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Progression from a partial to total lunar eclipse, Pennsylvania, December 2010.
Image: Anthony Skorochod
Source: Wiki Commons

In the night sky this month

by Kate C
Publish date
1 December 2010
Comments (0)

I missed the Leonid meteor shower in November so I was delighted to learn that there's another shower on its way in mid-December. Astronomer Tanya Hill explains more in our monthly Video Skynotes.

Twenty Geminid meteors an hour? Those are pretty good odds for spotting one!

If you prefer your Skynotes in written form, head to the Skynotes page on the Planetarium website.

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