This Easter brings the last lunar eclipse visible in Australia for the next three years! Where can you see it? Will it be a blood moon? How can you snap the best photos? Here's what you need to know...
It's all expected to start at 9:15 pm AEDT on April 4 — so all you astronomy and cosmology enthusiasts better keep the night of Easter Saturday free, or else wait until January 2018 for the next one.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the shadow or umbra of the Earth. The Moon's ghostly glow is caused by sunlight reflecting off the Moon's surface. But, when the Earth, Sun and Moon form a perfectly straight line, the Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon; thus plunging the Moon into an eerie, albeit brief, darkness.
Many of you may have heard of Saturday’s celestial phenomenon referred to as a blood moon on the internet or in apocalypse prophecies. In layman’s terms, blood moon and lunar eclipse technically describe the same event – however ‘blood moon’ is used specifically when the Moon adopts distinctive reddish brown hues during specific parts of an eclipse.
Gizmodo Australia spoke with Perry Vlahos of the Astronomical Society of Victoria this week. Unfortunately, he predicts that this lunar eclipse will not be a bright red blood moon.
“The Moon can get a reddish tinge during some eclipses,” Vlahos said. “I’m predicting it won’t be [a blood moon.]”
When light passes through the Earth's atmosphere, it is bent around the Earth and scattered. Only the red light passes through our atmosphere – we experience this phenomenon regularly at sunrise. This effect causes parts of the Earth’s shadow to turn red. And as the Moon drifts slowly into the Earth’s umbra, it catches the vermilion light and reflects it back at us.
But this lunar eclipse, the Moon will move only through the edge of the umbra, which may not be dark enough to cause the vibrant rust-red colour to appear on the surface of the Moon — it's more likely to be slight grey or pink.
“It [the Moon] needs to get very dark first and it can’t do that if it is going through the edge of the umbra. The part of it near the edge of the shadow will not get very dark,” Vlahos said.
So unfortunately, we probably will have to wait until January 2018 to see a traditional vibrantly red blood moon. Unless you’re planning a trip to the other side of the Earth around September 28th this year.
This is also set to be a very short lunar eclipse. The entire process of the eclipse will take hours, but the total eclipse phase, where the Moon enters and moves through the Earth’s umbra, will last five minutes.
“The Moon will get into the umbra, but only just and that’s why this is one of the shortest lunar eclipses for hundreds of years,” Vlahos said.
The event will commence just after 8:00 pm AEDT but the full eclipse will occur around 10:57 pm AEDT. Viewers should make sure they’re in prime position by ten to eleven to ensure they don’t miss the good bits! See the below for an event timeline.
ECLIPSE EVENT TIMELINE (all times AEDT) 8.01pm - Penumbral eclipse begins 9.15pm - Partial eclipse begins 10.57pm - Full eclipse begins 11.00pm - Maximum eclipse 11.02pm - Full eclipse ends 12:44am - Partial eclipse ends 1.59am - Penumbral eclipse ends
Best Places To Watch
The Eastern parts of Australia will get the best view of the eclipse — all or at least most of the eclipse process will be visible.
“It will be visible anywhere in Australia especially in the Eastern states. But everyone on the night side of the earth gets to see it,” said Vlahos.
Unlike the East, the West may not get a complete view of the penumbral phase of the eclipse. But don’t be too concerned if you live in the Western states.
“The penumbral phase is almost undetectable to non-astronomers anyway,” said Vlahos. “Western Australia will get a full view of the total phase.”
See the below diagram or click through to see your region’s viewing capabilities.
Although an eclipse is typically an unusual event, this will be the third one we've had in less than a year due to a phenomenon called a lunar tetrad — a series of four lunar eclipses in row. The first in the tetrad, in April last year occurred a little after sunset and didn't make for very good viewing. The last one in October was covered by a cluster of annoyingly timed clouds. And since the fourth eclipse within this tetrad (in September 2015) is not visible from Australia, the Easter lunar eclipse will be Australia's last chance to see and photograph an eclipse before the next FIFA World Cup year. And that’s a long way away…
For anyone who wants to enjoy this eclipse with a better view, there are a few options for you:
— For Melbourners, The Astronomical Society of Victoria with be transporting large portable telescopes to the Princes Bridge over the Yarra River and they’re inviting the public to come and join for free!
— If you can’t get down to one of these events, The Sydney Observatory will also be live streaming the eclipse. You can view it by visiting their site here.
— Slooh will also be live streaming the eclipse.
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