Chelyabinsk saw the greatest lunar eclipse of the century

Tonight, we had a fantastic opportunity to watch the longest astronomical event of our century. You could enjoy the breathtaking celestial vista all over the world, in Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America during almost two hours. The Sun, Earth, and Moon perfectly aligned in a line, casting the Earth’s shadow on our natural satellite. The Southern Ural region was lucky as its citizens could observe all the stages of the lunar eclipse. With the Moon hanging above the horizon and the right weather conditions, Chelyabinsk saw the entire eclipse.

As the Moon turned rusty red, eclipsed by the Earth, Mars rose in the same place. In a cosmic coincidence, it became closer to the Earth than at any time during the past 15 years. Unusually large and bright, Mars made company to the Moon last Friday night. Such an incredible astronomical combination of total lunar eclipse and Mars’ approach last happened 200 years ago.

Why the Blood Moon?

As the Moon does not have its own light, it shines thanks to its surface reflecting the sunlight. When a total lunar eclipse takes place, our planet blocks the Moon’s light source as it stands between the Sun and the satellite. The only light reaching the Moon in this case is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere. The Moon appears to be a reddish colour during a total solar eclipse because of the same mechanism that explains why sunrises and sunsets turn red, namely, Rayleigh scattering of the blue light. A lunar eclipse can sometimes be yellow, orange, and brown depending on the type and number of dust particles and the Earth’s clouds in the atmosphere. 

Stages of Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse can last for as long as a few hours that can be explained by a number of phases the Moon has to pass to get out of the Earth’s shadow. There exist seven stages of a total lunar eclipse:

  1. The penumbral stage: the penumbral part of the Earth’s shadow starts moving over the Moon
  2. The umbral stage: the Moon enters the Earth’s umbra, marking the start of the partial lunar eclipse
  3. Beginning of total eclipse (totality): the Earth’s shadow completely covers the Moon, turning it red-, brown- or yellow-colour
  4. Middle of total eclipse: the Moon’s centre is closest to the Earth’s shadow
  5. End of total eclipse: the Earth’s shadow starts moving away from the Moon’s surface
  6. Moon leaves the umbral stage: the Earth’s shadow leaves the Moon’s surface
  7. Moon leaves the penumbral phase: total lunar eclipse ends, and the Earth’s shadow moves from the Moon completely

Watching a total lunar eclipse

In contrast to the solar eclipse, you can enjoy a lunar eclipse without any eye protection or specialised equipment. Weather permitting, you can easily see the Earth’s shadow covering the Moon with naked eyes. However, to fully appreciate the celestial marvel, you need to get away from the city lights. The best idea is to find a dark open spot on the outskirts, with a clear upwards sight line. If you can not leave the city, the trick is the find the tallest rooftop possible.

Astronomers and photographers recommend using specialised equipment, if possible, to get the best of lunar eclipses. The easiest way to go is to use binoculars, which will help you to see the Moon’s peculiar features during the eclipse, such as changes in its colour during the Earth’s shadow move. Through binoculars, you can easily notice the blue ring surrounding the Moon during the start and end of the total eclipse phase. This blue band is caused by the Earth’s atmosphere filtering the red wavelengths from the sunlight and giving it a blue colour. If you intend to see the Moon in more exquisite detail, you will need a telescope.

Did you know?

  • You can only enjoy total solar eclipses when two conditions are met:
    • There is Full Moon
    • The Sun, Earth, and Moon are in a straight line
  • A solar eclipse usually happens two weeks prior or after a lunar eclipse. The partial solar eclipse occurred on July 13, 2018, and you could see it in the Southern Hemisphere. The next solar eclipse will take place on August 11, 2018, and will touch Northern Hemisphere countries.
  • Next lunar eclipse is expected on January 20, 2019.
  • If ever have a chance to see a total lunar eclipse from the Moon, you will notice a red ring around the Earth.
  • The first ever record of a total lunar eclipse belongs to China and is believed to have occurred on January 29, 1136 BC.
  • Historically, lunar eclipses were blamed for lost battles.



Natalia Shankova; photo: Ilya Barhatov, Nikita Kyrchikov
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