NEWS

Lunar Eclipse Begins, With Moon Glowing Blood Red

10/08/2014 07:06 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST
The full moon darkened and grew reddish during a total lunar eclipse early Wednesday that may help a fall meteor shower shine.

The edge of the Earth's shadow began to pass over October's full moon, traditionally called the hunter's moon, at 1:15 a.m. PT or 4:15 a.m. ET. It covered the moon for a total lunar eclipse starting 3:15 a.m. PT or 6:15 a.m. ET and lasting 59 minutes.

Because the eclipse takes place close to moonset in Eastern Canada, J. Randy Attwood, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, recommended that viewers in eastern provinces scout out a spot with a clear view of the southwest horizon, so that trees and buildings don't block their view.

Tips for observers

Those in Western Canada get a better view. He recommends trying to photograph the moon with a zoom lens and, if possible, a tripod.

The reason the moon turns reddish during a lunar eclipse is that during the event, the Earth's shadow blocks almost all sunlight from hitting the moon. The exception is a small amount of light bent around the Earth by its atmosphere.

The atmosphere scatters most of the blue light, leaving only the red to hit the moon — causing it to appear red.

"It's the same reason why the sky is blue … and why sunset is red," Attwood said.

The amount of red colour depends on the weather in the part of the atmosphere the light is passing through, he added. If it's clear, the moon will be brighter and redder, but if it's stormy and cloudy, the moon will be darker and more brownish.

The final two total lunar eclipses of this tetrad will take place next April 4 and September 28.

Meteor shower expected to peak

This particular lunar eclipse could give skywatchers an additional treat, by bringing out the meteors of the Draconid meteor shower, which is expected to peak tonight. The annual fall meteor shower produces relatively few meteors compared with the summer's Perseids, and the full moon is expected to wash out most of them. But the eclipse will temporarily darken the full moon and the night sky.

"That's the perfect time to look for meteors," said Attwood.

The Draconid meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Draco the Dragon, in the north to northwest sky.

Of course, the main event is still the eclipse.

"I get kind of excited about them because they're really cool to watch," Attwood said. "You're seeing motion in the sky, you're seeing it slowly creep into the Earth's shadow."

The best part is that they don't require any special knowledge or equipment.

"Anyone who sees the moon can see the eclipse," he said.

And unlike solar eclipses, they can be viewed without any eye protection.

"It's perfectly safe to look at an eclipse of the moon with your regular eyes or binoculars."

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