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I do hope it's not cloudy.


This Weekend's Total Lunal Eclipse

After a drought of 2½ years, we can finally look forward to a total lunar eclipse on the evening of March 3, 2007. On that night the Moon gradually slides into and out of the shadow cast by Earth in space. It is one of the grandest and most beautiful events in nature!

We haven't had a total lunar eclipse since October 27, 2004 — which coincidentally took place during the decisive Game 4 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals! Yet March 3rd's event will be the first of three total lunar eclipses to take place within the next 12 months.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which you have to view through a special protective filter to protect your eyes, a lunar eclipse is easy to see with any filter. And you don't need any special equipment to view it — you can watch it with your eyes alone. But using binoculars or a small telescope will make the viewing experience more rewarding.

We see lunar eclipses when Earth passes directly between the Sun and the Moon. This geometry creates two kinds of shadows on the lunar surface. Within the outer shadow, the penumbra, the Moon is bathed in a slightly smoky cast; an astronaut standing on the lunar surface would see the Sun partly covered by Earth. Penumbral shading can be difficult to detect, especially near the beginning or end of an eclipse.

As the Moon begins to move into the central and darkest part of Earth's shadow, the umbra, you'll notice an obvious and ever-larger "bite" in the lunar disk. The partial eclipse is then under way. (A partial eclipse also happens when the Moon glides only part way through the umbra.)

On March 3rd, however, the Moon dives completely inside the umbra, and once that happens no rays of sunlight can reach the lunar surface directly. Even so, the Moon may glow with an eerie coppery light in the night sky, because some sunlight is refracted through the atmosphere all around Earth's circumference, and some of this reddened light faintly illuminates the Moon.

Check the map at right and the table below to find out if the eclipse is viewable from your location. If you live in the eastern U.S. and Canada, you'll see the eclipse in progress at nightfall. Only in New England, Québec, and the Maritime Provinces does the sky become fully dark before the end of totality. Farther west, the eclipse is nearing its end when the Moon rises, and the Sun sets mdash; unfortunately, the main event ends before moonrise for anyone west of the Rockies. Farther east, across the Atlantic Ocean, the entire eclipse can be viewed from Europe, Africa, and western Asia, where it occurs in the hours before dawn on March 4th.

If you're east of the Mississippi River, you'll see the Moon rise while still in totality. But you may find it very difficult to spot the lunar disk at all while it's still very low in the sky. So, if your weather permits, note where moonrise occurs along the horizon on the evening before the eclipse; on March 3rd the eclipsed Moon will rise very close to that location.


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Start of visible eclipse: 4:30pm

Start of totality: 5:44pm

Moonrise: 6:06pm

Full Moon: 6:18pm

Mid totality: 6:21pm

Civil twilight: 6:37pm

End of totality: 6:58pm

Nautical twilight: 7:10pm

Astronomical twilight: 7:43pm

End of visible eclipse: 8:12pm

The moon is going to be really close to the east horizon for this. It will just be rising while the eclipse is underway, but if it's clear, we should be able to see the moon fully rise before the total eclipse is over. Werewolf party anyone?

ps: neenerneet

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Well, it was really cloudy at first, but then that downgraded to a kind of light haze, so we were able to appreciate that there was in fact a shadow passing across the moon. The telescope was a bit much for that kind of sky, but binoculars were just the thing. Here's waiting for the next one (this year too, apparently).

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