First lunar eclipse in three years will occur tonight, most visible at 9 p.m.
May 15, 2003
Look to the sky tonight to see what hasn’t been visible for three years — a lunar eclipse.
“What happens is the moon moves into the Earth’s shadow,” said Keith Johnson, associate director at the Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center in Reno. “The whole disc of the moon will be completely dark. But it’s difficult to predict what it will look like.”
Depending on how many clouds are in the sky, edges of the moon should be shrouded in an orangish to dark red haze starting at 8:13 p.m. The total eclipse, which only happens when there is a full moon, will last 52 minutes.
The colors are produced by sunlight that is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on the moon. The same phenomenon, the bending of sunlight, is what makes the sun appear squashed at sunset, Johnson said.
For tonight’s eclipse, the moon will be in the shadow of the Earth when it rises at 7:40 so it may be difficult to spot. The eclipse should be most visible around 9 p.m.
“One interesting feature for this particular eclipse is that it will already be in progress when the moon comes up,” Johnson said. “So the moon will be really dark and hard to find.”
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Software programs tell astronomers that another lunar eclipse, which essentially means the sun, Earth and moon are lined up, will happen Nov. 9.
Lunar eclipses last longer than a solar eclipse, which lasts seven minutes or less and occurs when the moon comes between the sun and the Earth.
The Fleischmann Planetarium will stay open late to accommodate crowds. They have telescopes and binoculars to view the phenomenon.
The planetarium is part of the University of Nevada, Reno. It is on the North Virginia Street past the Lawlor Events Center and across from Mackay Stadium. For more information, call (775) 784-4811.