Don't miss celestial highlight

Photos compiled from a previous eclipse. PHOTOS: IAN GRIFFIN
Photos compiled from a previous eclipse. PHOTOS: IAN GRIFFIN
Whatever your plans are for Wednesday night, drop them. One of the celestial highlights of 2021 is about to occur, and you don’t want to miss it, writes Ian Griffin.

Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Museum
Ian Griffin. Photo: Otago Museum
If the sky is clear, anyone with a deck chair and a pair of mark 1 human eyeballs will enjoy the first total eclipse of the moon visible from New Zealand since January 2018.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. Total eclipses are, in my opinion, among the most remarkable natural spectacles.

For several hours, the bright full moon darkens and turns blood red as it is covered by the Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth passes directly between the moon and the sun.

An astronaut lucky enough to be standing on the moon during an eclipse would be able to see the astonishing sight of the Earth’s night side surrounded by a ring of light - they would be looking at every single sunrise and sunset simultaneously!

Wednesday night’s eclipse begins just before 9pm when Earth’s outer shadow, the penumbra, touches the right side of the moon. The penumbra can be pretty tricky to see. It’s likely that you won’t notice that the eclipse has started until 9.45pm, when Earth’s dark umbral shadow starts to darken on the right lunar limb.

Over the next 80 minutes, the dark shadow will cover more of the lunar surface, and our closest celestial neighbour will dim and redden. By 11.11pm, the moon will be entirely covered by the Earth’s shadow, and the total phase will begin.

For the next 14 minutes, stargazers across New Zealand will be able to enjoy the stunningly beautiful sight of the eclipsed moon against a stunning stellar backdrop provided by the stars of Scorpius.

The total eclipse ends at 11.26pm. Over the next 87 minutes, the proportion of the moon covered by Earth’s shadow will reduce, and the moon will brighten and regain its more usual lustre.

Earth’s umbra will depart the left limb of the moon at 12.52am on Thursday, and the eclipse will finally end at 1.49am when the penumbral shadow leaves the lunar surface.

Happy eclipse viewing, everyone!



Looking forward to it.

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