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Slipping into the shadow

by Joe Michaels

Posted on February 20, 2008 at 2:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

For anyone out there who enjoys a good skyshow, you'll be in luck later tonight. A total lunar eclipse will happen this evening!

What is a total lunar eclipse? It's a bit tricky, but I'll try to explain it. Think of three different balls - one large, one medium, and one small. The large ball is the sun, the medium ball is the Earth, and the small ball is the moon. The light from the large ball, the sun, shines onto the Earth, the medium ball. And our medium ball has a shadow. Every once in a while, the moon's orbit takes it into that shadow of the Earth. And when that happens, a total lunar eclipse occurs. This picture may help.
Photo Courtesy

A lunar eclipse can be viewed without worrying about taking any safety precautions. You can look directly at the moon, and can use a telescope or even binoculars if you'd like. (A solar eclipse is the type of eclipse that you need to protect your eyes from.)

So what time will all of this astronomical excitement begin? =) The moon will start slipping into the Earth's shadow at 5:43pm PST tonight. The moon will be completely dark - completely in the Earth's shadow - between 7:01pm PDT and 7:51pm PDT. After that, the moon will slowly re-emerge from the Earth's shadow until, at 9:09pm PDT, it will be completely illuminated again.

Enjoy! Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have.