ANNAPOLIS – Nature will offer an alternative to prime-time television this evening, when Earth’s shadow completely eclipses the moon and reflected light in the atmosphere could turn our planet’s rocky satellite copper-red.
“This is a well-timed eclipse,” said Stephen Maran, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society. “It’s something you can show the kids.”
And with clear skies forecasted, viewers will not need to go farther than their backyard to watch the light show, no telescope or binoculars needed.
“People will see the full moon, and all of a sudden it’ll look like tiny bites are being taken out of it,” said Elizabeth Warner, manager of the University of Maryland Observatory.
But instead of disappearing during the eclipse, the moon will begin to glow from light reflected from atmospheric dust. Depending on the amount of dust, this glow could range from almost complete darkness to ruddy orange or rusty crimson.
This muted light will provide a unique chance to view the moon’s craggy surface. Normally the full moon, bathed in sunlight, is so bright that many features are blurred.
Skies are expected to be perfect for moon-gazing. The National Weather Service is calling for mostly clear, but chilly, conditions, so mittens may be in order for the most comfortable viewing.
Observatories and nature clubs across the state are arranging viewing events where telescopes will be available.
The rooftop observatory of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore will offer a free viewing, and the University of Maryland in College Park will hold a viewing party near the sundial on McKeldin Mall.
The moon’s gradual disappearance and reappearance in the eastern sky will occur between 6:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. The total eclipse will begin shortly after 8 p.m. and will last only 25 minutes.
Lunar eclipses are relatively frequent – as many as three happen per year. But some years bring no eclipses. The next chance for North Americans to see a lunar eclipse will be in late October 2004.