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Get ready for the total lunar eclipse!

Total lunar eclipse

We'll all get to see a total eclipse of the Moon on the night of December 10/11, 2011.

  • Total lunar eclipse, Saturday, December 10
  • Visible from all over Australia and New Zealand
  • Easy to see — you don’t need a telescope

SKYWATCHERS in Australia and New Zealand will be treated to a total eclipse of the Moon, late in the evening on December 10 and into December 11.

An eclipse of the Moon happens when the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow. If the Moon goes through the middle of the shadow, it is a total lunar eclipse. (If it “cuts the corner” of the shadow, we get a partial eclipse.)

There are usually 2-3 lunar eclipses each year, but they’re not always visible from the same place. From any particular spot on Earth, you might see 1 or 2 per year.

December 10 lunar eclipse

There are two parts to the Earth’s shadow—the outer, dim penumbra; and the inner, darker, umbra. When the Moon moves into the penumbra it is, technically, in eclipse, but it is very hard to see any darkening of the lunar surface. Some eclipses occur only in the penumbra, and the darkening is so slight that most people wouldn’t even know it was happening.

For this eclipse, the Moon will start to move into the umbra at 11:46pm, Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT) on Saturday, December 10. That’s 8:46pm in Perth, 11:16pm in Adelaide and 9:46pm in Darwin.

This won’t be a very long event compared to others that we’ve seen recently. The Moon will be fully eclipsed for only 51 minutes (but there are the partial phases before and after).

But unlike some eclipses where particular areas miss out on seeing the start or finish, everyone will be able to see the whole thing from end to end (weather permitting of course).

Mid-eclipse will occur at 01:32am AEDT, and the whole thing will be over by 3:18am AEDT on Sunday morning. (Adjust for your own time zone.)

Diagram of eclipse

The stages of the eclipse. U1 is where the Moon starts to move into the darkest part of Earth's shadow (the umbra) and where the first "bite" appears to be taken out of the lunar disc. U2 is where the Moon is fully inside the shadow and is therefore totally eclipsed. U3 is where the Moon begins to move out of the umbra, and U4 is where it is fully out of the umbra.

When and where to see it

The Moon will be in the northern part of the sky. As long as the weather is clear, you won’t have any difficulty seeing the eclipse.

You won’t need a telescope or binoculars – just your own eyes are enough to take in the view.

And it’s good to remember that eclipses happen fairly slowly, so if you don’t fancy staying out to watch the whole thing, just go outside every 10-15 minutes or so and see how it has changed.

And of course, unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch.

Eclipses in 2012

Next year will be a thin one for eclipses for Aussies — there’ll be one, pretty average partial lunar eclipse, but we’ll get a fantastic total eclipse of the Sun.

The partial lunar eclipse will occur on June 4, 2012, and will be visible from eastern and central Australia.

The total eclipse of the Sun will occur on the morning of Nov 14, 2012—and it will be the last one to be seen in Australia until the year 2028! Totality will be seen only along a narrow swathe of far north Queensland near Cairns. Everyone else will see a partial eclipse.

Here are some more web resources for the December 10 total lunar eclipse:

Melbourne Planetarium’s Skynotes site

IceInSpace guide to the eclipse

Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand guide to the eclipse

Wikipedia page on the eclipse

Story by Jonathan Nally. Many thanks to Tanya Hill, astronomer at the Melbourne Planetarium, for spotting an error in the original timings given above; now corrected.

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Total eclipse of the Moon

A totally eclipsed Moon

The Moon often goes a reddish colour during a total lunar eclipse, due to red wavelengths of light bending through Earth's atmosphere and reaching the lunar surface. Thursday's eclipse is likely to be quite red, due to all the volcanic dust in our atmosphere at the moment.

STARGAZERS ACROSS AUSTRALIA will be treated to a total eclipse of the Moon in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow, Thursday, June 16, 2011.

An eclipse of the Moon happens when the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow. If the Moon goes through the middle of the shadow, it is a total lunar eclipse. If it “cuts the corner” of the shadow, we get a partial eclipse.

There are usually 3-4 lunar eclipses each year, but they’re not always visible from the same place.

For any particular spot on Earth, you might see 1 or 2 lunar eclipses each year.

This will be the best total eclipse for Aussie observers since the year 2000, as the Moon will be in the main part of the Earth’s shadow—the umbra—for around 100 minutes.

Weather permitting, everyone across Australia will be able to see it, although those on the east coast will miss the final stages of the eclipse, as the Moon will have dropped below the western horizon.

The further west you are across the country, the more you’ll see of the final stages. Those in WA will see the whole thing from start to finish.

The Moon will be in the western part of the sky (that’s the direction in which Sun sets).

As long as the weather is clear, you won’t have any difficulty spotting it.

What you’ll see

The Moon will begin to move into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow at 4:23am, Sydney time. From this point, they moon will appear to have a progressively larger “chunk” taken out of it. This, of course, is the Earth’s shadow projected onto the lunar surface.

As the hours go by, the Moon will get progressively darker until it is completely covered up at about 5:23am. Mid-eclipse will come at 6:13am.

Diagram of how a total lunar eclipse works

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves into the Earth's shadow.

But by this time, for east coast observers, the sky will be getting brighter, with sunrise not far away. The Moon will be sinking lower and lower, down toward the western horizon and, for Sydney stargazers, the main part of the eclipse will finish just as the Moon dips below the horizon, and as the Sun rises above the eastern horizon, about 7:00am.

In fact, for most of the east coast, the Moon will set in the west roughly at the same time as the Sun rises in the east.

Eclipses happen slowly, so the best idea is to go outside every 15-20 minutes or so and see how it has changed. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars – just your own eyes are enough. And unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch.

Here’s a video of last December’s total solar eclipse. Tomorrow’s eclipse will be pretty similar:

What’s the best time to see the eclipse?

Here are the times for the capital cities around Australia, with the times listed as follows: start of the eclipse, when we can first expect to see a chunk taken out of the Moon; totality, which is when the Moon is fully covered up by the Earth’s shadow; mid-eclipse, when it is halfway through totality; and finally the end of totality.

Darwin: start, 3:53am; totality, 4:53am; mid, 5:43am, end of totality, 6:00am.

Brisbane: start, 4:23am; totality, 5:23am; mid, 6:13am, end of totality, 7:00am.

Sydney: start, 4:23am; totality, 5:23am; mid, 6:13am, end of totality, 7:00am.

Canberra: start, 4:23am; totality, 5:23am; mid, 6:13am, end of totality, 7:00am.

Melbourne: start, 4:23am; totality, 5:23am; mid, 6:13am, end of totality, 7:00am.

Hobart: start, 4:23am; totality, 5:23am; mid, 6:13am, end of totality, 7:00am.

Adelaide: start, 3:53am; totality, 4:53; mid, 5:43am, end of totality, 6:00am.

Perth: start, 2:23am; totality, 3:53; mid, 4:13am, end of totality, 5:00am.

Complicating matters is that for most places on the east coast of Australia, the Moon will have set below the western horizon before the eclipse is finished. Also, for most east coast locations, the time of “moonset” is pretty much the same as sunrise, so the Sun will be coming up in the east and the sky will be bright by the time the Moon disappears.

Nevertheless, if you get a chance, please go outside and take a look. If you have kids, get them involved too—a total lunar eclipse is a wonderful thing to see, and you never know when the weather gods might be kind enough to show you another one.

The next major eclipses for Australian stargazers will be:

Another total lunar eclipse, on December 10, 2011.

A total solar eclipse on Nov 14, 2012. This will be the last total solar eclipse visible from Australia for many a year, so lots of eclipse chasers are already making plans to witness it. Totality will be visible along a small strip of land in far north Queensland—the rest of the nation will see a partial eclipse instead.

Story by Jonathan Nally, SpaceInfo.com.au

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Total lunar eclipse today

A TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE will happen today, December 21, visible from certain parts of the world. (Shown above is an amateur video of a similar eclipse from 2007.)

The whole of the eclipse will be seen from the North American continent, Iceland and Greenland. (For observers in the western parts of Canada and the USA, the eclipse will actually begin before midnight on December 20.)

For the UK, the eclipse will begin just before sunrise and moonset, so observers there will see only the initial stages of the eclipse before the sky becomes too bright and the Moon dips below the horizon.

For observers in Australia and New Zealand, the eclipse will already be in progress by the time the Moon rises above the horizon…which will be at different times depending upon location.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon goes “behind” the Earth (with respect to the Sun) and moves through the Earth’s shadow. So the Sun, the Earth and the Moon have to be in a line, with Earth in the middle. Here’s a video that demonstrates it:

You don’t need a telescope to watch a lunar eclipse (although you’re welcome to do so if you have one.) Just go outside in the mid-evening (for Australian observers) after the Moon has risen and look to the east.

The times of moonrise vary depending on where you are in Australia. The times of moonrise—in local times, with daylight saving included—are:

Sydney — 8:05pm

Melbourne — 8:42pm

Brisbane — 6:40pm

Canberra — 8:17pm

Hobart — 8:49pm

Adelaide — 8:30pm

Darwin — 7:11pm

Alice Springs — 7:21pm

Perth — 7:26pm

There are usually a couple of lunar eclipses each year, but they’re not always visible from the same spots. For any particular location on Earth, you might get one or two lunar eclipses per year.

Some are better than others, depending upon how much of Earth’s shadow the Moon moves through.

From start to finish, they can be up to a couple of hours long.

For Australian observers, the next lunar eclipse after this one, will be on June 15, 2011, when again about half of it will be visible. After that, the following one will be on December 10, 2011, when we’ll see the whole total eclipse.

For more details on how, when and where to see the eclipse, please refer to these web pages:

Australia

New Zealand

North America

UK

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