Rising at Sunset, Fully Eclipsed

A total lunar eclipse is one of my favorite nature happenings to watch. The viewer knows precisely when it’s going to happen (no standing around waiting for it, like with meteors), you frequently don’t even have to stay up past midnight, and there’s no need for driving deep into the country for dark-sky viewing. You can watch an eclipse for awhile, pop back inside to warm up on the sofa, have a cup of tea and then step back out. Lunar eclipses take hours to complete, and you can watch them in a leisurely and unhurried way.

The weather forecast for Saturday, March 3 in my part of the world is chilly and partly cloudy — but there’s time for change, and I’m hoping for warm and clear weather in time for the total eclipse of the moon happening in the eastern half of the U.S., Africa and Europe that evening.

This eclipse will be unlike any lunar eclipse I’ve ever observed before. Eclipses I’ve watched all started after full dark. But for this one, totality — the time when the moon is at its darkest and most fully eclipsed by the Earth — starts at 5:44 EST, before moonrise in my area. The moon rises that day around 6:18 PM, about halfway through totality, and according to the data on space.com, it will stay dark and totally eclipsed for a good half an hour. So the full moon this Saturday over WNC will rise at sunset, already fully eclipsed (creepy!). Even with half the show already over by moonrise, it’ll be an awesome sight I won’t even have to stay up late for.

This is my kind of entertainment.

If you’ve never seen a total eclipse of the moon before, it’s a strange and beautiful sight. The eclipsed moon doesn’t turn the gray-black of the dark part of the waning moon, but an unexpected rusty red-orange. A bloody, earthy color. Well, according to space.com the eclipsed moon actually can turn dark, with the eclipsed part nearly indistinguishable from the black night sky, but the eclipses I’ve observed all look more like the image below:


How is that going to look slouching balefully over the horizon this weekend?

While watching the last total lunar eclipse from my front yard two and a half years ago, I noticed that just as totality began, red light began reflecting from satellites flying overhead and the sky was suddenly full of tiny red dots traveling with a strangely constant speed. It only lasted a few seconds, but was unforgettably odd. I’ll look for that again this weekend.

Total lunar eclipses are ridiculously easy to watch. If you want to enjoy this one, make a mental note to step outside after sunset this Saturday and find the moon. It’ll be the big weird red thing. Since you’ll be looking for the rising moon, ideally you will want an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon. But since the moon eventually rises overhead, you don’t really need to go anywhere special, and don’t need to use special viewing equipment, although binoculars are not a bad idea. Usually I watch for awhile (eclipses take hours — this is a truncated one at three hours), go back inside and hang out, and then step back out to see the changes. I wander in and out all during the eclipse, coming inside to surf the net and pet cats and then coming back out to lean on my car or just stand the road or in the middle of my back yard. Looking up.

Here’s space.com’s guide to the eclipse, with more information on viewing times.

Unfortunately, this eclipse will not be viewable for those living in the western United States and Canada, as the eclipse will have pretty much ended by the time the moon rises there. But as space.com says, As a consolation…the next total eclipse later this year (on Aug. 27) will favor these locations.

This one’s for the eastern half of the U.S. and Europe. It’s this coming Saturday, March 3, with totality beginning at 5:44 PM EST, 22:44 GMT.

I’ll be watching.

2 responses to “Rising at Sunset, Fully Eclipsed

  1. I will never forget the time I saw this type of eclipse happen. It was about 35 years ago in Rome, Italy. I was at an outdoor performance of an opera at the Baths of Caracalla ruins. The performance began at twilight and as the moon rose, it was this bloody red color and under full eclipse. The Italians and foreigners in the audience stared at it and many ignored the opera. Italians are quite superstitious and there was no prior notification of the eclipse, so many of them were scared and probably made gestures averting the evil eye. By Act 3, however, the pure white moon had emerged from the shadows and we could get back to Puccini.

  2. WOW!!! Thanks for that. The moon will be well risen by that time (which is good as I’m kind of lacking good horizons here) but I can see I’m going to be spending quite some time pottering round the garden in the dark :-)

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