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Last Updated on Saturday, 08 May 2010 14:30
Published on Tuesday, 22 February 2005 00:00


A total eclipse of the Moon will be visible from the UK in the early morning of Friday January 21st. It will also be visible from the whole of north and south America, and from much of Europe and Africa, though the eclipse will not be over by the time the Moon sets for countries east of France and Spain. Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse is visible from all places on Earth where the Moon is above the horizon.

Lunar eclipses can only take place at full Moon. They happen because the Moon passes into the cone-shaped shadow cast into space by the Earth.

The Earth's shadow will first become visible on the Moon when the partial phase of the eclipse begins at 3.01 a.m. GMT. The total phase of the eclipse occurs between 4.05 and 5.22 a.m. GMT. The eclipse then becomes partial again, finishing completely at 6.25 a.m. GMT.

When the eclipse takes place, the full Moon will be in the constellation Cancer, quite low in the western sky (about 30 degrees above the horizon), for observers in the UK.

The Moon usually remains easily visible during a total eclipse, becoming a shade of copper-brown or orange. This is an effect of Earth's atmosphere. Some of the sunlight passing through the atmosphere changes direction and is scattered onto the Moon. If the Earth had no atmosphere, its shadow would be completely black and the Moon would disappear from view. The Moon's colour during an eclipse can vary considerably according to the amount of dust in the Earth's atmosphere at the time.

There can be up to 3 lunar eclipses in any one year. The last calendar year in which there were 3 total eclipses of the Moon was 1982. The last total lunar eclipse visible from the UK was on 16 September 1997. The next is on 9 January 2001. There is another lunar eclipse later this years, on 16 July, but it is not visible from Europe. It will be seen in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. There is no total eclipse of the Moon in 2002.

Further information about this eclipse, including relevant maps and diagrams, can be found on the NASA eclipse web site at:


Dr Jacqueline Mitton, RAS Press Officer
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