Friday, February 11, 2011

Photos: Total Lunar Eclipse on June 15, 2011

THE longest lunar eclipse for a decade took place this morning, turning the Melbourne sky a stunning blood red colour.

The specific phenomenon, known as a deep lunar eclipse, often exudes a coppery colour but was enhanced today because of the amount of ash in the atmosphere.

The peak of the eclipse was expected at 6.12am.

But a late cloud cover obscured the view for keen moon-watchers.

The eclipse began at 3.25am (AEST) and entered its darkest phase or ‘totality’ at 5.22am when the transformation to a blood-red moon began.
During an eclipse, light bent through our atmosphere would normally give the moon an orange glow, but the volcanic ash cloud has added a red tinge.

"This is worth getting up early for," said Perry Vlahos, from the Astronomical Society of Victoria, said yesterday.

"I'd bet on a pretty red, blood-red moon."

A lunar eclipse comes when the sun, Earth and moon line up and Earth's shadow falls on the moon.

For length and totality, this eclipse will be among the best three of the past 100 years.

Melbourne Planetarium curator of scientific instruments Martin Bush said it would be the longest one since 2000 - which was one of the three longest since 1000BC.

"This one is pretty good. It's right up there," he said.

"The total eclipse will last around 100 minutes, which is getting close to as long as an eclipse can be."

When the partial eclipse becomes visible, about 4.23am, the moon will be about halfway up from the horizon.

By total eclipse time, 5.22am, it will be about a third of the way up and by mid-eclipse, when the sight is most striking, it will be about 20 degrees above the horizon.

Weather Bureau duty forecaster Richard Russell tipped a clear morning in Melbourne with only a small chance of fog towards dawn.

The Astronomical Society suggests west-facing beaches and ovals, and recommends early viewing before the sky begins to lighten, washing out the colour.

"It will be worth setting the alarm for."

Sydney Observatory’s acting curator Dr Andrew Jacob said: “Deep lunar eclipses such as this typically turn a blood-red or even coppery colour, but this is very dependent on the amount of dust and cloud in Earth’s atmosphere.”

This "syzygy" - a perfect alignment of three astronomical bodies, ends at sunrise in all states but West Australia, with the spectacle fading in the twilight.

Adelaide astroblogger Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide says it should be a beautiful sight, if the sky is clear.

"Lunar eclipses don't occur often, and for Australians this is the best eclipse since the total lunar eclipse of August 2007," he said.

"This is also the longest eclipse since 2000, so you will have plenty of time to have a good look at it."

Look to the western horizon and watch the Earth's shadow slowly creep over the moon's face.

As the sky becomes darker, the stars will appear brighter and the moon will glow red, because light from the sun is passing through dust and pollution in the Earth's atmosphere.

"Twilight starts before the eclipse is over, so you will get to see the eerie reddish moon glowing against the twilight skies," Dr Musgrave said.

"You don't need anything special to watch the eclipse, just your eyes."

Astro Space News editor Dave Reneke says the eclipse will be visible "over more than half the globe, throughout most of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Australia".

"It's expected to be one of the darkest eclipses on record, due to an unusually straight alignment between sun, moon and Earth," he said.

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