Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse on Wednesday

I have had several requests to post something about the total lunar eclipse on Wednesday night. So I contacted my insider at the local natural history museum, who gave me permission to post the email she sent out regarding the eclipse. Here you go!

I'm excited to inform you that the total lunar eclipse on February 20th will be visible from Santa Barbara (and the rest of the United States). The moon rises at 5:39 PM that afternoon in Santa Barbara, and the eclipse begins at 5:43 PM. Totality starts at 7:01 PM and lasts until 7:51 PM. Although totality concludes then, the eclipse continues until 9:09 PM. In case you have any questions, or you get questions from friends or family, here are some answers:

Where should I look for the eclipse?
The eclipse will be visible in the east at sunset. The eclipse continues as the moon rises that evening. If you want to see the eclipse from the beginning, make sure you have a clear view of the eastern horizon.

Is the Museum offering a public viewing?
Yes! We'll be at Shoreline Park for the duration of the eclipse with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. This is a free viewing, and appropriate for people of all ages. You'll find the event listed on the Museum's calendar at
http://www.sbnature.org/eventcal/index.php?calview=event&event_id=704&prevview=month&year=2008&month=02&day=20 .

Why aren't you doing the viewing at the Museum?
Because we're located in a canyon, the Museum is not a good viewing spot for this eclipse; the moon will be too low in the sky to be visible from our Mission Creek campus.

Do you need a telescope to see the eclipse?
No. Anyone can view this eclipse without a telescope or binoculars. And unlike a solar eclipse, you don't need protect your eyes with filters. We will have telescopes at Shoreline Park, but those will be pointed at Mars, Saturn and other celestial targets.

What causes a lunar eclipse?
Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth. You might think that this process would make the moon completely dark, as the earth is completely blocking direct sunlight. Not so! Some sunlight passes through the earth's atmosphere, which filters out most of the blue light; a small fraction of the remaining red light is refracted and then hits the moon. That is why the moon looks reddish during totality.

How often do lunar eclipses occur?
Lunar eclipses can occur anywhere from 0 to 3 times in a single calendar year. However, not all eclipses are total eclipses, and any eclipse will only be visible from the side of the earth facing the moon. The next few lunar eclipses visible from the US include this year's eclipse, a partial and a total eclipse in 2010, a partial eclipse in 2012 and two total eclipses in 2014.

I've seen this eclipse listed as occurring on February 20th and February 21st. Which is it?

Both. The eclipse begins at 01:43 Universal Time (1:43 AM Greenwich Mean Time) on February 21st. However, that's 5:43 Pacific Standard Time on the preceding day, February 20th. So if you're in Morocco, the eclipse happens on the 21st; if you're in the US, it starts on the 20th.

Krissie, this is the most fascinating thing I've ever read. How can I find out more about lunar eclipses?

I'm so glad you asked. For more information about lunar eclipses, the best website I've found is the NASA Eclipse Homepage - http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html - and has a special feature section about this upcoming eclipse. You'll find diagrams, descriptions, photos and more.

I hope to see you all at Shoreline Park, but if you can't make it, be sure to go outside between 7 and 8 PM and enjoy this cosmic phenomenon. Don't forget to drag anyone you can along with you! Please feel free to contact me with any further questions you might have.

Happy eclipsing,


Krissie Cook, Astronomy Programs Manager
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History


Melissa said...

Woo hoo! Thanks for the info! Now the roomies and I will be camped out on the top of our apartment building for the show tomorrow night.

Patrick & Leigh said...

I just got the email about your blog about 20 minutes ago...just in time for the eclipse!! My kids are bouncing off the wall because I'm letting them stay up for it. So, Stellan is stinkin' cute!! I'm so excited about your blog, I'm going to check for updates like every day.

:) Leigh