LUNAR ECLIPSE VISIBLE ON 8/9 NOVEMBER
On the night of Saturday 8th November and in the early hours of Sunday, people all over the UK will be able to see a total eclipse of the Moon if the weather is clear. Observers will notice Earth's shadow begin to creep over the Moon at about 11.30 p.m. The Moon is totally eclipsed for about 25 minutes between 1.06 and 01.31 a.m. and the event is finally over at 3.05 a.m.
"This is a natural spectacle anyone can safely see and enjoy," said Dr Jacqueline Mitton of the Royal Astronomical Society. "From the UK, the Moon will be easily visible at the time of this eclipse, high in the sky over the south-west. You don't need any equipment, though the view will be even more spectacular with a small telescope or binoculars."
Lunar eclipses can only occur at full Moon. They happen when the Sun, Earth and the Moon are in a near perfect line in space and the Moon travels through the long cone-shaped shadow Earth casts in space. The Moon does not become invisible during an eclipse, but appears a dark colour - usually a shade of brown, coppery-red or orange. This is because Earth's shadow is not completely black. Our atmosphere diverts some sunlight, most of it red light, into the shadow. That makes the shadow lighter round its edge than in the middle. The colour the Moon takes on varies from one eclipse to another according to how much dust there happens to be in the atmosphere.
At this particular eclipse, which is a relatively short one, the Moon skims through the edge of Earth's shadow. "We are not expecting the Moon to become very dark during this eclipse," says Jacqueline Mitton, "and it is likely to have a bright rim at its southern edge, which will only just be inside the shadow."
Lunar eclipses are a fascinating and beautiful phenomenon, and no two are quite alike, but they are of no real scientific importance in astronomical research.
More technical information about this particular eclipse, and eclipses in general, is available from
Date: 31 October 2003
Issued by Jacqueline Mitton, RAS Press Officer.