Today, people across Australia and New Zealand are being treated to an awe-inspiring total lunar eclipse.
Today, people across Australia and New Zealand are treated to a total lunar eclipse, weather permitting.
It is an opportunity not to be missed, as the next one will not be visible from our region until 2025.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon travels through Earth’s shadow.
If the moon is only partially in shadow, that is a partial eclipse.
In a total solar eclipse, the moon is completely submerged and takes on a reddish/orange glow.
In the current eclipse, the period of totality—when the Moon is completely in shadow—will last a leisurely 85 minutes.
The only light that reaches the lunar surface will first pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, which is why the moon will take on a red hue.
How red it looks depends on how dusty the Earth’s atmosphere is at the time.
It will be a great experience to share with family and friends, especially since you don’t need any equipment to see it.
It is also safe to watch – unlike solar eclipses, where special care must be taken when viewing the sun.
A twilight moon or a midnight moon?
Everyone on the night side of the Earth will experience the lunar eclipse at the same time.
But what time that is for you depends on your time zone.
In New Zealand, the solar eclipse will occur late in the evening and the maximum of the eclipse will be just before midnight.
The Moon will be high in the northern sky.
Across Australia, the solar eclipse will occur around moonrise.
Thus, the Moon will be much lower in the sky, battling twilight during the early stages of the eclipse.
Eastern Australia will see the eclipse shortly after the full moon rises.
The further north you are, the longer you have to wait for the eclipse to begin.
For Brisbane, it starts more than an hour after moonrise, so the Moon will be higher in the sky.
In Hobart, the solar eclipse begins just 15 minutes after moonrise.
For the rest of Australia, the solar eclipse begins before the moon rises.
In all of Central Australia it starts just a few minutes before moonrise, while in Western Australia it will definitely get going with moonrise.
Those in the north will see part of the partial eclipse before totality sets in, but Perth can expect a fully eclipsed Moon deep in the shadows at moonrise.
big moon rises
If you see the solar eclipse shortly after the moon rises, expect it to look amazing.
That’s because something called the “moon illusion” comes into play.
This is where your brain gets tricked and the moon looks much bigger when it’s low on the horizon, compared to when it’s high in the sky.
The Moon will rise in the east-northeast over all of Australia, so a high location or a clear view of the horizon will help you see the early parts of the eclipse.
As the moon gets higher and the sky darkens, the later part of the eclipse should be easy for everyone to see.
Joined the opposition
But it’s not just the moon that you should pay attention to.
On the night of the solar eclipse, the ice giant Uranus appears near the moon as seen from Earth.
So if you have binoculars, you can see Uranus in totality, when the moon’s light doesn’t interfere.
Uranus will reach opposition the day after the solar eclipse, on November 9, meaning that – like the full moon – it will be in the opposite part of the sky to the sun. This is when the planet is closest and brightest.
At a distance of 2.8 billion kilometers, however, Uranus is so far away that it looks like a star even through binoculars.
Only a large telescope will reveal it as a small blue-green dot.
One among the planets
But even without binoculars you can see beautiful stars and planets. Bright Jupiter and Saturn will be easy to see high above the eclipsed Moon.
Later in the evening, all viewers can see the constellation Taurus rising in the northeast – with the beautiful star cluster Pleiades and the red giant star Aldebaran – along with Orion and its red supergiant Betelgeuse.
The red planet Mars will also make its appearance.
People in New Zealand and Queensland will be well placed to see four red objects in the sky together: the eclipsed Moon, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse and Mars low on the horizon.
Lunar eclipses remind us that we live on a planet that moves through space. When I stare at the moon in the shadows, I like to imagine what it would be like to stand on it and see the sun shielded by the Earth.
You may have your own moment of wonder and awe – at how astronomy can sometimes make us feel a little small, but also connected to something much bigger.