An eclipse is a situation where one object in space blocks the vision of another object in space. On Earth we can see two different types of eclipses:
Lunar eclipse and Solar eclipse. There are very specific requirements for each type of eclipse. A full lunar eclipse happens only during a full moon and only occurs when there is a perfect lineup of the moon, Earth and Sun.
If the alignment isn’t perfect we see only a partial eclipse or none at all. Lunar eclipses have been noted by the Ancient Babylonians and Chinese and were thought to be messages from the gods.
The moon’s orbit exists in a slightly different plane that our Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This is why we don’t see a lunar eclipse every time we have a full moon.
In the case of a perfect alignment for a lunar eclipse, the Earth will cast two shadows that fall on the moon:
- The umbra is the dark, full shadow and the penumbra is an outer partial shadow. As the moon passes through each of the stages of shadow it creates and initial and then final stage.
- The penumbral shadow isn’t very noticeable, however, the best part of a lunar eclipse is in the middle of the occurrence when the moon is in the umbral shadow.Our ability to see a lunar eclipse is a rarity in our Solar System.
As far as we know, no other planet has a perfect balance of distance and size for the planet, Sun and Moon. The moon formed about 4.6 billion years ago and it has been slowly moving away from Earth at about 1.6 inches each year.
While our alignment is currently perfect, it won’t be the case billions of years from now.Solar eclipses happen about two to four times every year.
However, lunar eclipses are not as frequent, happening about three times per year. The advantage of a lunar eclipse is that it can be visible from over half of the Earth.
Solar eclipses only have around a 50-mile pathway for observation.
There are three types of lunar eclipses:
- Total lunar eclipse is where the umbral or full shadow of the Earth falls on the moon. Although you won’t see the moon completely disappear if will have a strange darkness. Some of the sunlight that passes through the atmosphere of the Earth is refracted or bent as well as scattered and then refocused on the moon. It gives the moon a low glow, even during the time of totality. If you happened to be on the moon during this time and looked at the Earth you would only see a black disk as Earth would be blocking the sun. You would be able to see a faint light glowing around the edges of the Earth in a total lunar eclipse.
- A Partial lunar eclipse is when only a part of the eclipse is visible. This phase also exists even during a total lunar eclipse. The partial phase is when the Earth, Sun and the Moon are not completely aligned and it looks a bit like the shadow of the Earth has taken a “bite” out of the Moon.
- Penumbral lunar eclipse is not as exciting as the other kinds, mainly because the moon is in the faint outer area (penumbral) of Earth’s shadow. Skywatchers are about the only people that are interested in this form of eclipse. Senior editor at Sky & Telescope, Alan MacRobert said “The outer part of Earth’s penumbra is so pale that you won’t notice anything until the moon’s edge has slid at least halfway in.”
The Blood Moon
Throughout history many civilizations and cultures have been both in awe and afraid of what is called the “blood moon.”
This is when the moon appears to take on a coppery or red color during the total portion of an eclipse.
The color is based on how colors in the spectrum are scattered from the Sun into Earth’s atmosphere. Red light seems to be easier to make it through the eclipse.
NASA scientists have indicated that the exact color of red for the moon is dependent on the amount of clouds and dust in our atmosphere. The more dust and debris that we have, the deeper the shade of red.
Lunar eclipses are safe to at
Unlike solar eclipses, which cannot be viewed without special protective glasses, lunar eclipses are easy to watch. Unless you are an avid skywatcher, you don’t need any telescope or equipment.
You can simply look up to the moon and enjoy the sight. If you want to see incredible details you can use a telescope or binoculars to view the lunar surface.
Facts about Lunar Eclipse
- The word “eclipse” is derived from a Greek word of “ekleipsis” that means downfall or abandonment.
- When both the eclipsed Sun and Moon can be seen at the same time, it is called a “selenelion.” During this time, both the Moon and the Sun are seen at different sky areas above the horizon.
- When the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned it’s called “syzygy”
- Can you look directly at a lunar eclipse safely?
- What are the three types of lunar eclipse?
total, partial, and penumbral
- Do you need any special equipment to see a lunar eclipse?
- What requirements are needed for a lunar eclipse?
alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon and a full moon
- How many shadows does the Earth cast on the Moon during a lunar eclipse?
- What kind of lunar eclipse once scared ancient people?
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