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A total eclipse of the Moon will occur during the early morning hours of Friday, 16th May. The partial, umbral eclipse begins at 3:03 am and ends at 6:18 am, while actual totality lasts for 53 minutes from 4:14 am to 5:07 am. Mid-eclipse occurs at 4:40 am.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth and Moon are almost exactly aligned with the Earth in the middle. For an eclipse to occur, the Moon must pass through the shadow cast by the Earth. The Moon normally does not disappear but remains faintly visible because a portion of light from the Sun is refracted and scattered by the Earth's atmosphere onto the surface of the Moon. The Moon can take on a variety of hues from red-orange to dark brown depending on how much dust is suspended in the our atmosphere.

This eclipse will be visible, weather permitting, from much of Europe, Africa, North and South America. It is best viewed with binoculars or a wide-field telescope. The Moon will be low in the southwest as the eclipse begins and will eventually set before the eclipse ends. Because the Moon sets while the eclipse is still in progress, we may have an opportunity to see what is known as a selenelion, that is, the simultaneous appearance of the setting eclipsed Moon and the rising Sun. For more information on this rarely-observed phenomenon see Duncan Steel's article in the May issue of Astronomy Now.

This is the first of two total lunar eclipses this year, the second one being on 9th November.

John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory,
College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG.
Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3755-7174;

Last Revised: 2003 May 2nd
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