Have you ever seen a total eclipse of the moon? During a total lunar eclipse, the sun, Earth and moon form a line in space. Earth’s shadow falls on the face of the moon. A total lunar eclipse is one of nature’s grandest spectacles. Here’s how to watch one.
Things to bring.
- Warm clothes
- Blankets or sleeping bags to keep warm
- A lawn chair for reclining
- Equipment such as cameras, binoculars, telescopes
- A flashlight, perhaps covered with red film to save your night vision
How to watch
First, be sure you know the date and time of the eclipse. Some eclipses take place before dawn, so if the date is “December 10,” for example, find out if that’s a.m. or p.m. in your location. Also, the times are sometimes given in what is called Universal Time, or UT. Here’s how to translate Universal Time to your local time zone.
Second, select a location to watch. You’ll want a wide open view of the sky, unobscured by trees or tall buildings. You can see an eclipse from inside the city, but there’s a special beauty to watching in a country location, where thousands of stars pop into view. City parks or state parks are often good places to watch the skies. Check the closing times! Or plan to camp out overnight.
Recline comfortably and observe the eclipse. Eclipses last several hours and have several parts.
- Penumbral eclipse begins – The outer, light penumbral shadow begins to cover the moon. This phase of the eclipse is subtle. Some people say they can’t tell it’s happening, even while looking right at it. It looks like a dusky shading moving across the moon’s face. For the next hour or two, gradually more and more of the moon will be in shadow.
- Partial eclipse begins – The inner, dark umbral shadow begins to cover the moon. Like the penumbral shadow, it starts on one side and slowly creeps across the moon’s face. It looks like a dark bite taken out of the moon.
- Total eclipse begins – The dark shadow completely covers the moon. This is the total phase of the eclipse, called the totality. It generally lasts for the better part of an hour. During the totality, the shadow on the moon often appears red. It is very beautiful!
- Greatest eclipse – The middle of the eclipse. The totality is still going on.
- Total eclipse ends – The inner, dark umbral shadow begins to leave the moon’s face. A sliver of light appears on one edge of the moon. For the next hour or two, gradually less and less of the moon will be in shadow.
- Partial eclipse ends – The inner, dark umbral shadow leaves the moon.
- Penumbral eclipse ends – the light, outer penumbral shadow leaves the moon. The eclipse is over.
Bottom line: You have to be in the right place on Earth’s globe to see a total eclipse of the moon. But there’s a good chance you will be, since half the world can see a lunar eclipse. You will enjoy a lunar eclipse more under a dark sky. Plan to watch for several hours. Watch the various parts of the eclipse. Optical aid, such as binoculars, will enhance the view. Have fun!