The best part about a total lunar eclipse? All you have to do is go outside and look up. No special gear required, just hope for clear skies, which is what the weather reports are calling for.
Tomorrow night’s eclipse will officially begin at 5:43pm with the most dramatic effects visible between 7 and 8 pm then ending around 9:00pm. The moon will turn shades of red and perhaps even turquoise, according to the folks at NASA.
A lunar eclipse happens when the earth is positioned between the sun and the moon, casting the earth’s shadow on the moon. Why is it red, and possibly turquoise? Because of the earth’s atmosphere. More from NASA:
Eclipse researcher Dr. Richard Keen of the University of Colorado explains: “During a lunar eclipse, most of the light illuminating the moon passes through the stratosphere where it is reddened by scattering. However, light passing through the upper stratosphere penetrates the ozone layer, which absorbs red light and actually makes the passing light ray bluer.” This can be seen, he says, as a soft blue fringe around the red core of Earth’s shadow.
To catch the turquoise on Feb. 20th, he advises, “look during the first and last minutes of totality.” That would be around 7:01 and 7:51 pm PST.
This will be the last full lunar eclipse until December 2010, so make it a good one and join your fellow lunatics* at Griffith Observatory tomorrow night from 5:30 to 9:15pm. They will have a public star party and special presentations.
More information, images and links about this eclipse after the jump. Thanks to David for the tip!
(Public domain Image by Thomas Knoblauch.)
This is an image (public domain from Raycluster found on Wikipedia) that shows the optics of a lunar eclipse and makes the turquoise part more obvious:
(Definitely click this for bigger!)
Historically, the lunar eclipse was important to one Chris Columbus who was saved by an eclipse. From Breitbart:
Stranded on the coast of Jamaica, the explorers were running out of food and faced with increasingly hostile local inhabitants who were refusing to provide them with any more supplies. Columbus, looking at an astronomical almanac compiled by a German mathematician, realised that a total eclipse of the Moon would occur on February 29, 1504. He called the native leaders and warned them if they did not cooperate, he would make the Moon disappear from the sky the following night. The warning, of course, came true, prompting the terrified people to beg Columbus to restore the Moon — which he did, in return for as much food as his men needed. He and the crew were rescued on June 29, 1504.
According to StarDate Online, the February full moon is also known as the Wolf Moon or Snow Moon. (For a full list of what each month’s full moon name is, go here and scroll down to “Full Moon Names”.)
*Okay, technically “lunatic” means “an insane person” but it comes from the Latin: lunaticus meaning “moon-struck”. And when that bright full moon is hanging above us, don’t we all become a bit moonstruck, even just for a few minutes?