How To View A Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipses are spectacles of nature. The eerie orange glow given off by the moon during totality ignites a flame of curiosity in us all. Lucky for you, lunar eclipses are easier to view than solar eclipses. They are visible from a wider range of locations, which gives more people a chance to witness them. How would you like to join in on the fun?

What Is A Lunar Eclipse?

In simple terms, a lunar eclipse is the event in which the moon passes through the Earth's shadow. The moon can either be partially obstructed (a "partial eclipse"), or completely obstructed (a "total eclipse").

Why Don't Lunar Eclipses Occur Every Month?

While it seems that the moon would have a chance of passing through the Earth's shadow during every full moon, this is not the case. The moon's orbit is slightly tilted in relation to Earth's orbit around the sun. It is only at the points in which these planes intersect (the orbital nodes) that an eclipse can occur. The moon needs to be at one of the two orbital nodes during either full moon (for a lunar eclipse to occur) or new moon (for a solar eclipse to occur).

Where and When To View Lunar Eclipses

The fortunate thing about lunar eclipses is that, unlike solar eclipses, they aren't extremely location-specific. Since it is the Earth's shadow falling on the moon, the only requirement is that you are in a location where the moon is visible at the time of eclipse. Since the earth rotates, more than half of the Earth's surface will have had moon visibility at some point during the course of the eclipse. A full moon will typically rise at 6pm in your local time zone, and set at 6am the next day in your local time zone. Depending on the season and your location, these times will vary. If the eclipse takes place between these hours (be sure to convert to your time zone!), then you will have a chance of seeing it.

What To Expect To See

If the eclipse you are planning to watch is only partial, you will see as a small "bite" is taken out of the moon, and subsequently returned. Partial eclipses aren't all that exciting, and often go unnoticed, being mistaken for another lunar phase or cloud cover.

Total eclipses are a rarer but more enjoyable experience. As with partial eclipses, you will see a small "bite" taken out of the moon, that grows larger by the minute. When nearly the entire moon seems to have been eaten away by the Earth's shadow, you will notice that the moon is not completely black, but has an orange glow. This is cause by light refraction in the Earth's atmosphere that filters out blue light. The degree of color is dependent on the atmospheric conditions at the time of totality. As totality comes to a close, a small portion of the moon will return to full brightness, the rest soon to follow.

Lunar eclipses can be utilized in many different ways. To a young couple, it provides a unique visage during a romantic nighttime picnic. On the other end of the spectrum, lunar eclipses are good educational opportunities for children. After-school astronomy clubs will benefit if a lunar eclipse falls on a date during the school year. Happy viewing!