Tonight, across Australia, when the moon rises, you won't be able to see it. There's a total lunar eclipse happening for around an hour between 5:30PM and 6:30PM — here's everything you need to know to watch it happening across the country.
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A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is perfectly aligned between the moon and the sun, with the moon hiding behind Earth in its umbra. Lunar eclipses aren't especially rare — definitely not as rare as solar eclipses — and there are four total eclipses happening in the next 16 months. They are quite cool, though, and this is the first total eclipse since December 2011.
If you're in one of Australia's capital cities that isn't Perth, Sydney Observatory has a simple explanation of when the eclipse will start, when it will be at its most brilliant, and when it will end:
Adelaide: The Moon rises at 5.48pm; total eclipse ends at 5.55pm; the eclipse ends at 7.03pm.
Brisbane: The Moon rises at 5.27pm; maximum eclipse is at 5.46pm; total eclipse ends at 6.25pm; the eclipse ends at 7.33pm.
Darwin: The Moon rises at 6.41pm; the eclipse ends at 7.33pm.
Hobart: The Moon rises at 5.33pm; maximum eclipse is at 5.46pm; total eclipse ends at 6.25pm; the eclipse ends at 7.33pm.
Melbourne: The Moon rises at 5.49pm; total eclipse ends at 6.25pm; the eclipse ends at 7.33pm.
Sydney: The Moon rises at 5.28pm; maximum eclipse is at 5.46pm; total eclipse ends at 6.25pm; the eclipse ends at 7.33pm.
The best way to watch the April 15th lunar eclipse is to find a good vantage point pointing eastward, ideally over the sea, with a good telescope pointing at the horizon. In Sydney, for example, the moon will start to rise above the horizon at 5:28PM, but won't be fully risen before total eclipse starts at 5:46PM. When the total eclipse ends at 6:25PM, the moon will still only be 10 degrees above the horizon, so you won't ever be able to see the entire moon in total eclipse, but it should still be pretty spectacular.
If you want to photograph the lunar eclipse, you have two choices. The first is to get your digital SLR or digital camera with the longest lens that you own — at least a 300mm focal length is recommended, but 500mm or higher is even better — and a heavy, solid tripod with a smooth pan head. An appropriate telescope would be even better, with a camera adaptor if you want to take some timelapse photographs as well.
When the moon is completely shrouded in shadow, it'll be very dark, so longer exposures will be needed — this is where the high ISO setting on your camera, and a remote shutter release to avoid vibration, will come in handy.
Here's NASA's take on the tetrad of lunar eclipses that kicks off with tonight's event.