Observers are gearing up for another fine spectacle in the skies overnight with the so-called ‘Blood Moon’ eclipse.
Depending on the weather, Armagh Observatory reports that skywatchers will witness this rare total lunar eclipse, the totality of which will last over an hour.
The lunar eclipse coincides with the so-called ‘Supermoon’, which happens when a full or new moon comes closest to the Earth.
It could appear as orange or copper-red giving the name ‘Blood Moon’.
Conspiracy theorists and some fringe religious leaders claim that the spectacle – the fourth Blood Moon in the past two years, what is known as a ‘tetrad’ series – marks the beginning of the Apocolypse, where an asteroid will strike Earth and wipe out civilisation.
But NASA has dismissed this.
It says: “NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.
“To be able to better calculate the statistics, astronomers need to detect as many of the near-Earth objects as possible. It’s likely that we could identify a threatening near-Earth object large enough to potentially cause catastrophic changes in the Earth’s environment, and most astronomers believe that a systematic approach to studying asteroids and comets that pass close to the Earth makes good sense.
“It’s too late for the dinosaurs, but today astonomers are conducting ever-increasing searches to identify all of the larger objects which pose an impact danger to Earth.”
Armagh Observatory says that the penumbral phase of the eclipse will begin soon after midnight tonight (Sunday), at 1.11am, followed by the main partial phase, which begins at 2.07am.
Totality starts at 3.11am and continues to 4.23am, with maximum eclipse occurring at 3.47am.
The Moon then moves slowly out of the Earth’s shadow, the partial eclipse ending at 5.27am, and the penumbral phase ending at 6.22am.
This will be the first lunar eclipse visible from Northern Ireland for nearly five years.
The last was on December 21, 2010, when the Moon was seen low down in the north-west around dawn and set whilst still eclipsed in the dawn mist.
The next total lunar eclipse visible in its entirety from Northern Ireland will not occur until January 21, 2019.
But a slightly earlier eclipse on July 27, 2018 will see the Moon rising whilst still totally eclipsed, and so – as in 2010 – its visibility will depend on having clear skies in the appropriate direction right down to the horizon.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon, in its elliptical orbit around the Earth, happens to pass exactly through the shadow of the Earth in space. When this happens the Earth blocks direct sunlight from reaching the Moon, and the otherwise full Moon is significantly diminished in brightness.
As the eclipse progresses from penumbral to partial phase, and then towards totality, it is interesting to observe how the dark shadow of the Earth slowly encroaches on the full Moon until the Moon is nearly completely obscured.
Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Observatory, said: “Every total lunar eclipse is different, and given the right weather conditions is well-worth observing.
“Each provides a different and unique visual experience. And even if it is cloudy, you can still admire how dark it becomes during the short period of totality before the Moon returns to full brightness.
“If it is clear, the changing visual appearance of the Moon during the different phases of the eclipse will provide stargazers with great photo-opportunities.”
The reason that the Moon may not be totally obscured during a total lunar eclipse is because some sunlight passes through the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere as seen from the Moon, and is refracted onto the lunar disc.
Professor Bailey added: “This helps to explain why the Moon often appears a copper, or dull red colour during a lunar eclipse, because the blue and yellow rays of the Sun are more easily scattered and absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.
“The colour and brightness of the Moon during a total lunar eclipse depends in part on how centrally it passes through the Earth’s shadow, but also on how transparent or cloudy are those parts of the Earth’s atmosphere that enable sunlight to reach the Moon.
“During a very dark eclipse the Moon may be almost invisible.
“Less dark eclipses may show the Moon as dark grey or brown; or as rust-coloured, brick-red, or, if very bright, copper-red or orange.”
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