Eclipse alert! Look up tonight, watch the moon vanish

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Eclipse alert! Look up tonight, watch the moon vanish

By LIZ MITCHELL lmitchell@islandpacket.com 843-706-8169
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2008 in The Island Packet  |  378 Words  |  news/local

Tonight, Beaufort County residents have only to look up to see the last total lunar eclipse before 2010.
The eclipse can be seen outside anywhere on the East Coast without binoculars or telescopes.
What is it?
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow over the moon's surface, according to NASA's Web site. A total eclipse finds the moon completely covered by the Earth's shadow.
When to see it?
Tonight's eclipse will last nearly three and a half hours. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye. It will begin at 8:43 p.m. The total eclipse starts at 10:01 p.m. and lasts about 50 minutes. It will then move into a partial eclipse and end shortly after midnight.
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What will it look like?
The moon has no light of its own. The light you see is sunlight reflected from the moon's surface. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the moon, but indirect light still gets through and makes it glow.
As sunlight passes through the Earth's atmosphere, it causes the moon to appear to change color during a total eclipse. Colors range from gray to deep red and depend on the amount of dust and particles in the atmosphere. If the Earth had no atmosphere, the moon would be completely black during a total eclipse. The Hilton Head Astronomy Club expects to see a copper-colored moon, said its president, Jeanne Audet.
How's the view?
The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, but Meteorologist Steve Rowley of the National Weather Service in Charleston said there's still a good chance to see the eclipse.
"It's just high clouds, but I think we got a pretty good shot," he said. "Clouds may thicken up and viewing may not be ideal. It doesn't look like it's totally clear, but it's not totally cloudy either."
When can I see it again?
While some partial eclipses are expected over the next few years, the next total lunar eclipse will not occur until Dec. 21, 2010.