Thursday, December 8, 2011

Heavenly Bodies Above Us

A rare full lunar eclipse in NZ this coming weekend...
On Saturday 11th December, we'll be able to see the eclipse from all around the country, if the skies are clear. The total eclipse lasts from just after 3am to just before 4am.
So what exactly happens in a lunar eclipse? Well, the moon passes behind the Earth so the Earth blocks the sun's rays from lighting up the moon. This can only happen when the sun, Earth, and moon are lined up exactly, or as near as dammit, with the Earth in the middle. So a lunar eclipse will only occur on the night of a full moon.
To our eyes, the eclipsed moon is likely to look a copper colour. This is caused by a scattering of sunlight as it passes through the thin ring of our Earth's atmosphere, removing the blue light and passing mainly the red, some of which weakly illuminates the moon.
You'll need a clear eastern horizon to be able to see this eclipse. Over water would be ideal, and the further north you are, the better.
Venus transit, 2004
The last total lunar eclipse in NZ back in June was cut short by the setting moon and poor weather.
There'll be no total lunar eclipses in 2012 (so there goes the Mayan 2012 theory!), but there will be a solar eclipse on 14th November and the transit of Venus across the face of the sun on 6th June (the next transit after that won't be until 2117, so get your tickets early...!).

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