Skip to comments.Stargazers Await Weekend Lunar Eclipse (with news about Leonids)
Posted on 11/06/2003 12:00:55 AM PST by Aracelis
Stargazers across North America will watch the full moon dim into a dark, ruddy orb Saturday night as the moon drifts through Earth's shadow in the latest celestial event this year to pull eyes skyward.
Astronomers who scrutinized Mars this summer during its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years were more recently awed by red and green aurora displays as far south as Florida thanks to big explosions on the sun.
And now more heavenly happenings are on the way.
Saturday's lunar eclipse will be followed by the Leonid meteor shower, a total solar eclipse over the southern hemisphere and a chance for more auroras if the sun stays active. Another eruption Tuesday on the sun may rank among the most intense solar events ever recorded. But the explosion was aimed away from Earth, meaning it would have little impact here.
Still, the otherworldly event the public has the best chance of seeing is Saturday's total eclipse of the moon. At its peak, the moon will hang eerily in the night sky like a dark, reddish-orange coal.
Unlike unpredictable comets and meteors, the moon is a reliable show, said Stephen Maran, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society.
"Nowadays people who've grown up in the city or suburbs have never seen the Milky Way, but even in the most light-polluted place I've ever been downtown Los Angeles you can see the moon," he said.
Weather cooperating, people in the eastern United States will witness the entire eclipse; it will already be under way when the moon rises around sunset in the West.
The eclipse reaches totality at 8:06 p.m. EST. That stage when the moon, Earth and sun are lined up precisely and the moon passes through the darkest part of Earth's shadow lasts just 24 minutes.
The eclipse can also be seen in South America, Europe and Africa. The last eclipse of the moon visible from North America was on May 15, but much of the United States was cloudy.
Unlike eclipses of the sun, which can damage viewers' unprotected eyes, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye or binoculars.
Total lunar eclipses come in many colors, from dark brown and red to bright orange, yellow and even gray, depending on how much dust and clouds are in the Earth's atmosphere at that time, Maran said.
In ancient times, the phenomenon was believed caused by some unseen monster bloodying the moon, an omen of disaster.
If clouds blot out Saturday's event, disappointed viewers won't have to wait long before the annual Leonid meteor shower arrives.
For North American viewers, the shooting star display peaks Nov. 19 with 100 or so meteors per hour, some of them fireballs, said Stuart Levy of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society in central Illinois.
Levy's views of spectacular Leonid showers during the past few years were ruined by clouds, but he'll be trying again this month.
"I've missed the best, when people were seeing hundreds of meteors an hour. If I see 100 an hour this time around I'll be happy. It might be a really good show, with luck," he said.
Nov. 28 also will bring a total solar eclipse, although seeing it will require a bit of travel. It will be visible only in Antarctica.
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Reminds me, on the day before I started my thru-hike, in late April, I was camped at Lake Morena campground near Campo, no tent, just laying in my sleeping bag looking up at the sky, and I saw the biggest fireball I've ever seen. I imagine things like that are no big deal for wilderness folks, but for me it was stunning. Everyone else at the campground was already asleep, so it felt like a private show. Too bad my wife and I had to drop out with injuries near Wrightwood. Did log 200 miles, though. And I've never seen so many kinds of cacti before, in full bloom no less!
I miss camping out in the desert. There were nights so quiet out there, it was like nothing I've ever experienced. Then in the morning, many times, a hummingbird would come buzz our tent, as if to say "Get up, you lazy bums!" I will say that, even in May, it could get COLD in the desert. Not quite freezing, but close. And then during the day it could get up to 90-95 degrees. Early May, mind you, even at elevations of 5000 feet! We never did make it to the Sierra Nevada mountains, though. Maybe someday.
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