When the skies are clear on Sunday night, Canadians can witness one of the most beautiful celestial events: a total lunar eclipse.
This is the first total lunar eclipse of the year and the first since May last year. Best of all, it will be visible across the country, although not all Canadians will see the full five-and-a-half-hour event.
The solar eclipse will begin late Sunday evening and last until early Monday morning.
Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow.
The moon actually has two shadows: one is the penumbra — Earth’s fainter outer shadow — but it’s nearly imperceptible to the human eye. The most exciting and dramatic, however, is when the moon slides over Earth’s inner, darker shadow, the umbra.
During this time, depending on the atmosphere, the moon may appear to take on a red hue, which is why total lunar eclipses are sometimes referred to as “blood moons.”
This eclipse also occurs close to when the moon is in perigee, or closest to its monthly orbit — which is why it’s sometimes called a “supermoon” lunar eclipse (although it’s hard for people to notice the slight difference in size).
And as if a “blood moon” and a “super moon” weren’t enough names for this event, so is the “flower moon” this month. the name given by the Old Farmer’s Almanac for this month’s full moon.
How to see it?
Unlike total solar eclipses, where totality (when the moon covers the sun’s disk) can last only a minute or a few, in lunar eclipses totality can last more than an hour.
In Sunday’s eclipse, total takes about 85 minutes†
However, the eclipse itself will last about five and a half hours. It starts when the moon enters the penumbra, but as mentioned earlier, it will not be visible to the human eye.
The excitement begins when the moon enters the umbra. At first it will look like something has taken a bite out of the moon. This is the partial phase of the solar eclipse. However, as the night goes on, that “bite” gets bigger and bigger.
Then, as it enters totality, most of the moon may take on a faint reddish color because the Earth’s atmosphere scatters the light from the sun, which will be directly behind it. Light of longer wavelengths — such as orange and red — refracts or bends around Earth, where it eventually reaches the moon.
There are some predictions that, because of the dust released by the giant Tongan volcanic eruption in January, the dust in the atmosphere can make this a dark eclipse: instead of being red, it can get quite dark.
The eclipse will be seen entirely in the east and will occur when the moon rises west of Ontario.
To enjoy it, all you have to do is go outside and look up – and hope for a clear sky. No binoculars or telescopes are needed, but since the eclipse starts late in the evening in some parts of the country and lasts nearly six hours, you may want to stay up late.
And if you don’t like it anymore, you can watch it live online at The virtual telescope project†