A darker Moon at total eclipse

The Moon will turn blood-red on Wednesday, 15 June when a total eclipse occurs. It may well be darker than usual because the Moon will pass through the centre of the Earth’s shadow in space.

A total lunar eclipse by Paul Sutherland
A total lunar eclipse by Paul Sutherland

The eclipse will not be visible at all from North America because the Moon will be below the horizon. But it will provide an unusual spectacle across the UK, Ireland and much of Europe by rising while the Full Moon is totally eclipsed.

Since this happens around sunset, when the sky is still bright, British observers will need a really clear sky to be able to see it at all.

The time to look from the UK is just after sunset and the direction is southeast. Make sure you get a horizon clear of tall buildings or trees. The Moon won’t be its usual bright silvery or yellow colour. Instead, it will be dull red – if you can see it at all, that is.

As the eclipse progresses, the Moon will be rising in the sky in western Europe and so will become easier to see. Observers in the whole of Africa and further east in India and eastern Asia will be able to see the whole eclipse because the Moon will already be higher in the sky. In western Asia, Australia and the Philippines, the lunar eclipse will be visible just before sunrise. From South America it occurs at moonrise too.

The Moon will start to enter the dark umbra of the Earth’s shadow just after 18.22 UT. It starts to leave the shadow at 21.03 UT (just after 10pm UK time) and will slowly regain its silvery illumination, with the bright part appearing as a crescent to start with. It will leave the dark umbral region at 22.03 UT but will not fully emerge from the lighter penumbral shadow until an hour after that at 23.02 UT.

Times of moonrise from the UK vary between 21.05 BST in Dover and 21.13 in London and 21.26 in Birmingham to 21.54 in Edinburgh, 2204 in Londonderry and 22.10 in Inverness where the Moon will rise just as it is emerging from totality.

The diagram, from Wikipedia, shows hey timings for the passage of the Moon through the Earth’s shadow at this eclipse. Check out Skymania’s guide to lunar eclipses here.

Moon's passage through Earth's shadow
Moon's passage through Earth's shadow

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

2 thoughts on “A darker Moon at total eclipse

  • 06/14/2011 at 4:22 pm

    When one looks at the pics taken on the moon by NASA, why is the sky black and not the same as here on earth..??
    Surely the moon is closer to the sun in certain times but yet still black sky’s, opposite to blue sky’s,

  • 06/14/2011 at 5:32 pm

    Our own sky is blue due to sunlight scattered in our atmosphere. The Moon has no discernible atmosphere and so its sky remains dark even if the Sun is up.

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