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Total Lunar Eclipse

Sky watchers will witness a total lunar eclipse in the early hours of Thursday 21st February, subject to weather conditions.

For a total lunar eclipse to occur, the Moon in its orbit around the Earth must pass fully into the cone-shaped shadow of the Earth in space. In this way the Earth blocks direct sunlight from reaching the Moon and the full Moon can sometimes fade almost to invisibility.

The Moon does not usually go completely dark because the Earth's atmosphere refracts direct sunlight around the edge of the shadow on to the Moon's surface. This causes the Moon to turn a dark, blood-red or copper colour. The progression of a total lunar eclipse is one of the most inspiring and beautiful sky-views.

The colour of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse depends on how transparent or dusty the Earth's atmosphere is at the time. Over the years, observations of the darkness and colour of the Moon during total lunar eclipses can provide valuable information on the variations of transparency and cloudiness of the Earth's atmosphere as a whole.

The partial phase of the upcoming eclipse begins at 1:43am, when the Moon begins to enter the Earth's umbral (inner) shadow. The most spectacular part of the eclipse, the total phase, when the whole of the Moon is completely within the Earth's umbral shadow, will last from 3:01am until 3:51am. The partial phase of the eclipse will end at 5:09am, when the final part of the Moon emerges from the Earth's umbral shadow.

At least some part of totality will be visible from most of Europe and the Americas. At totality, the Moon will be located moderately high in the southwest and a small angular distance from the gas giant planet Saturn and the bright star Regulus, both in the constellation of Leo.

The last total lunar eclipse visible from Northern Ireland was on 3rd March 2007, but the next will not be until 21st December 2010.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jmfat signarm.ac.uk

See also:
Total Lunar Eclipse, March 2007

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Last Revised: 2008 February 13th
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