May 7, 2003
Note to Editors/Producers: This release is accompanied by high-quality illustrations and an animation; see details below.
On Thursday night, May 15th, skywatchers throughout the Americas will have a front-row seat to the first total lunar eclipse in almost 2½ years — and the first visible across the US since January 2000. Moreover, most North Americans will see the event in prime time. As listed in the table below, the Moon will be totally eclipsed beginning at 11:14 p.m. EDT (10:14 p.m. CDT; 9:14 p.m. MDT; and 8:14 p.m. PDT); for West Coast observers, the Moon rises with the partial eclipse already in progress.
Skywatchers in western Europe and western and southern Africa will see the eclipse before and/or during dawn on Friday morning, May 16th. In the table, UT stands for Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time).
|Total Eclipse of the Moon, May 15–16, 2003|
|Moon enters penumbra||1:05||9:05 p.m.||8:05 p.m.||—||—|
|Partial eclipse begins||2:03||10:03 p.m.||9:03 p.m.||8:03 p.m.||—|
|Total eclipse begins||3:14||11:14 p.m.||10:14 p.m.||9:14 p.m.||8:14 p.m.|
|Mideclipse||3:40||11:40 p.m.||10:40 p.m.||9:40 p.m.||8:40 p.m.|
|Total eclipse ends||4:06||12:06 a.m.||11:06 p.m.||10:06 p.m.||9:06 p.m.|
|Partial eclipse ends||5:17||1:17 a.m.||12:17 a.m.||11:17 p.m.||10:17 p.m.|
|Moon leaves penumbra||6:15||2:15 a.m.||1:15 a.m.||12:15 a.m.||11:15 p.m.|
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon form a straight line in space and the full Moon passes through Earth's shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires special equipment to observe safely, you can watch a lunar eclipse with your unaided eyes. Binoculars or a small telescope will enhance the view dramatically.
As the Moon moves into the outer fringe or penumbra of Earth's shadow, it will fade very slightly — imperceptibly at first. The real show begins when the Moon's leading edge enters the shadow's core, or umbra, and the dramatic partial eclipse begins. For the next hour and 11 minutes, more and more of the Moon will slide into dark shadow.
Total eclipse begins when the Moon is fully within the umbra. But it won't be blacked out! The totally eclipsed Moon should linger as an eerie dark gray or coppery red disk in the sky, as sunlight scattered around the edge of our atmosphere paints the lunar surface with a warm glow. This is light from all the sunrises and sunsets that are in progress around Earth at the time.
After 52 minutes the leading edge of the Moon will emerge back into sunlight, and the eclipse is again partial. In another hour and 11 minutes the last of the Moon emerges out of the umbra.
Details about this event, and how to enjoy it, appear in the May 2003 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.
This year brings two total eclipses of the Moon. The second, on November 8th, will also be visible from North and South America.
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