I got a press release from my friends over at Sky Publishing Corporation, publishers of Sky & Telescope Magazine. Now’s the time to plan ahead for viewing the next total lunar eclipse of 2003. Read on for details!
“On Saturday night, November 8-9, 2003, the full Moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow for skywatchers throughout the Americas, Europe, and Africa, and in parts of Asia. For the Americas, this will be the second lunar eclipse of 2003; the first took place the night of May 15-16.
But the total phase of November’s eclipse will be unusually brief, lasting only 25 minutes as the Moon skims barely inside the southern edge of our planet’s dark shadow.
Skywatchers in eastern North America will see the entire eclipse during dark evening hours. Those living in the western half of North America will find the eclipse already in progress as the Moon rises around sunset.
All of Europe and most of Africa will see the eclipse in its entirety much later Saturday night. Observers in eastern and southern Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia will see the eclipsed Moon set around sunrise on Sunday morning.
[For a nifty table of times and visibility, click here.]
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon form a nearly straight line in space, so that the full Moon passes through Earth’s shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires special equipment to observe safely, you can watch a lunar eclipse with your unaided eyes. Binoculars or a small telescope will enhance the view dramatically.
As the Moon moves into the outer fringe, or penumbra, of Earth’s shadow, it will fade very slightly — imperceptibly at first. Only when the leading edge of the Moon is at least halfway into the penumbra is any shading visible at all.
The real show starts when the Moon’s leading edge first enters the shadow’s dark core, or umbra, and the partial eclipse begins. For the next hour and 34 minutes, more and more of the Moon will slide into dark shadow.
The total eclipse begins when the Moon is fully within the umbra. But it likely won’t be blacked out. The totally eclipsed Moon should linger as an eerie dark gray or coppery red disk in the sky, as sunlight scattered around the edge of our atmosphere paints the lunar surface with a warm glow. This is light from all the sunrises and sunsets that are in progress around Earth at the time.
Each total lunar eclipse is different. Sometimes the Moon looks like an orange glowing coal, while at other times it virtually disappears from view. Its brightness depends on the amount of dust in the Earth’s upper atmosphere at the time, which influences the amount of sunlight that filters around the Earth’s edges.
Because the Moon passes just inside the umbra, totality will be very short and the Moon’s southern edge, in particular, should remain fairly bright. After only 25 minutes the leading edge of the Moon will emerge back into sunlight, and the eclipse is again partial. In another hour and 33 minutes the last of the Moon emerges out of the umbra.
Details about this event, and the solar eclipse visible from Antarctica, Australia, and New Zealand on November 23-24, appear in the November 2003 issue of SKY & TELESCOPE magazine.
The next total eclipse of the Moon falls on May 4-5, 2004, and is visible from central and south Asia, the Middle East, and the eastern two-thirds of Africa. North Americans will see their next lunar eclipse on October 27-28, 2004.”