Lunar eclipse tonight may highlight Draconid meteor shower
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The full moon will darken and grow reddish tonight during a total lunar eclipse that may help a fall meteor shower shine.
The edge of the Earth’s shadow will begin to pass over October’s full moon, traditionally called the Hunter’s Moon, at 1:15 a.m. PT or 4:15 a.m. ET. It will cover the moon for a total lunar eclipse starting 3:15 a.m. PT or 6:15 a.m. ET and lasting 59 minutes.
At that time, the moon will darken to a colour that could vary from orange to brown to red. Lunar eclipses are sometimes called blood moons — particularly fitting, perhaps, for a Hunter’s moon shortly before Halloween.
The timing of tonight’s eclipse means that part of it will take place after moonset in Eastern Canada, but Western Canada should get a nice view.
· Multiple images of the moon are are seen in this illustration of the phases of the lunar eclipse over Winnipeg on April 15, 2014. A total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth casts its shadow over the moon. The lunar face can sometimes turn reddish, coppery-brown or orange, tinged by light from the sun that refracts as it passes through our atmosphere. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
·The moon is shown in eclipse from Los Angeles on April 15. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)
·The moon in eclipse appears to hover over the hand of a statue in Brasilia on April 15. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)
·A combination of six pictures shows the phases of the moon (from top left to bottom right) during the lunar eclipse in Buenos Aires on April 15. The entire event was to be visible from North and South America, but sky watchers in northern and and eastern Europe, eastern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia were out of luck, according to U.S. space agency NASA. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty)
·The moon glows a red hue during the lunar eclipse as it is framed between the steeples on the Annunciation Catholic Church in Houston, on April 15. (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle/AP)
·People gather to see the moon head into a total lunar eclipse on April 15 in the municipality of Copacabana near Medellin, Colombia. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty)
·The moon glows a red hue over the Goddess of Liberty statue atop the Capitol in Austin, Texas, during the lunar eclipse April 15. (Jay Janne/Austin American-Statesman/AP)
·The moon is seen as it begins a total lunar eclipse that will turn the moon red over Buenos Aires. Tuesday’s eclipse was the first of four total lunar eclipses that will take place in 2014-15. (Marcos Brindicci/Reuters)
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This particular lunar eclipse could give skywatchers an additional treat, by bringing out the meteors of the Draconid meteor shower, which is expected to peak tonight. The annual fall meteor shower produces relatively few meteors compared to the summer’s Perseids, and the full moon is expected to wash out most of them. But the eclipse will temporarily darken the full moon and the night sky.
“That’s the perfect time to look for meteors,” said J. Randy Attwood, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The Draconid meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Draco the Dragon, in the north to northwest sky.
Of course, the main event is still the eclipse.
“I get kind of excited about them because they’re really cool to watch,” Attwood said. “You’re seeing motion in the sky, you’re seeing it slowly creep into the Earth’s shadow.”
The best part is that they don’t require any special knowledge or equipment.
“Anyone who sees the moon can see the eclipse,” he said.
And unlike solar eclipses, they can be viewed without any eye protection.
“It’s perfectly safe to look at an eclipse of the moon with your regular eyes or binoculars.”
Tips for observers
Because the eclipse takes place close to moonset in eastern Canada, Attwood recommends that viewers in eastern provinces scout out a spot with a clear view of the southwest horizon, so that trees and buildings don’t block their view.
Those in Western Canada will get a better view, but will probably need to set an alarm.
He recommends trying to photograph the moon with a zoom lens and, if possible, a tripod.
“Once the eclipse is total, then you may need an exposure of several seconds.”
The reason the moon turns reddish during a lunar eclipse is that during the event, the Earth’s shadow blocks almost all sunlight from hitting the moon. The exception is a small amount of light bent around the Earth by its atmosphere.
The atmosphere scatters most of the blue light, leaving only the red to hit the moon — causing it to appear red.
“It’s the same reason why the sky is blue… and why sunset is red,” Attwood said.
The amount of red colour depends on the weather in the part of the atmosphere the light is passing through, he added. If it’s clear, the moon will be brighter and redder, but if it’s stormy and cloudy, the moon will be darker and more brownish.
The final two total lunar eclipses of this tetrad will take place next April 4 and September 28.