Lunar Eclipse: A Red Moon on the Rise
West Coast Has Best Seat for Lunar Eclipse

By Julie Sevrens Lyons,
San Jose Mercury News
Monday, August 27, 2007, 1A & 4A

You've heard of a blue moon, but how about a red one?

Early Tuesday - if you've got insomnia or the inclination to be awake about 3:37 a.m. - you should be able to see a coppery red hue on a shaded moon.

One of the greatest lunar eclipses in years will begin just a few hours after midnight, and the West Coast will have one of the best seats in the global house.

"It's like nothing you'll see in the sky," said Ben Burress, a staff astronomer at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland. "That alone makes it worth getting out of bed and taking a look."

This total lunar eclipse - a phenomenon that occurs only when the Earth finds its way directly between a full moon and the sun - will be especially long, lasting a little more than four hours. But the best viewing will be mid-eclipse, when the moon spends about 90 minutes entirely in the Earth's shadow.

Early Tuesday, the moon will gradually darken as the Earth's shadow falls upon it, but it won't appear completely black, said Andrew Fraknoi, chairman of the astronomy program at Foothill College. Light bent through the Earth's atmosphere will give the orb a dull brown or reddish glow. The exact color is determined by how dirty the atmosphere is - whether volcanoes have recently erupted and how much cloud cover, storm activity and human pollution there is, Fraknoi said.

On average, there is about one lunar eclipse a year, although some years have none and others as many as three. But most are only partial eclipses, and some are visible only from other parts of our planet.

"This will be a magical eclipse out your way," said Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The view on the East Coast, he said, won't be nearly as spectacular, and only observers to the west of the Rocky Mountains will be treated to the entire event. The show won't be visible at all from Europe, Africa or western Asia.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely safe to watch. You don't need protective filters for your eyes, or even a telescope. But a pair of binoculars will certainly help magnify the view and make the red coloration brighter and easier to see.

If you miss this total lunar eclipse, you'll have to wait until Feb. 21 for another one. But the moon won't be covered for nearly as long. That eclipse, however, will have one big upside: It will take place in the evening, rather than during the wee hours of the morning, Burress said, "so that will be a little easier on the eyes."

Contact Julie Sevrens Lyons at or (408) 920-5989.

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