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Twelve minutes later, at 7.24am, the second of this year’s quartet of lunar eclipses will reach its maximum extent. As seems par for the course in 2020 (which to me is not turning out to be a good year at all!), all four lunar eclipses will be very hard to see, as all of them are of the penumbral variety. What does this mean?
There are three types of lunar eclipse.
The most dramatic is a total eclipse when the inner part of Earth’s shadow, called the umbra, completely covers the moon’s surface. During a total eclipse, the usually bright full moon darkens and can appear blood red for more than an hour.
The second type of lunar eclipse is called a partial eclipse; in this case, the dark part of the Earth’s shadow covers only part of the moon. While less exciting than a total eclipse, a partial eclipse of the moon is undoubtedly dramatic and easy to see.
The third kind of eclipse (which will occur next Saturday morning) is called a penumbral eclipse. To be honest, penumbral eclipses of the moon are somewhat underwhelming, since only the lighter part of the Earth’s shadow falls on the moon’s surface. They can be tough to spot at all, and it will be fascinating if anyone in Otago can discern this particular eclipse. The event begins at 5.45am. Look for a subtle darkening of the upper left quadrant of the moon over the next 90 minutes. Photographers might try to capture the progress of the eclipse using a telephoto lens, taking exposures every few minutes starting from 5.30.
In Dunedin, the moon sets just before 8.14am, and the eclipse ends at 9.04am, which is well after sunrise. I’d love to hear from anyone who successfully spots this eclipse.