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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Shadowy lunar show will greet stargazers


We ll be slipping into the shadows Saturday night.

Or more accurately, the moon will be.

At 6:32 p.m., the moon begins its shadowy journey to total eclipse when it enters the Earth s penumbra.

Penumbra is just a fancy name for the lightest part of the Earth s shadow. The darkest shadow, in the center, is the umbra. When that shadow falls over the moon, a total eclipse occurs. Totality Saturday begins at 8:06 p.m. and ends at 8:31 p.m. The moon will clear the Earth s shadow entirely at 10:04 p.m.

This is the second total lunar eclipse visible here this year.

“It s a total eclipse, but the geometry isn t as good as it was in May, so the moon won t be as dark as it was then, said Alex Mak, associate director for the Ritter Planetarium at the University of Toledo.

“The moon isn t going to be in the middle of Earth s [umbra], he said, but will travel through its outermost portions.

Eclipses occur when the sun, Earth, and moon line up. The sun shines on the Earth, which casts its million-mile long shadow in the opposite direction, all the way to the moon. When the moon is in the center of the lineup, a solar eclipse follows.

The eclipse won t blot out the moon entirely. Instead, expect the moon to take on a reddish glow.

“In May, it turned very dark red. This time around, it will probably be a lighter shade of red, Mr. Mak said.

The color comes from the Earth s atmosphere, which acts like a lens, bending the sun s light into the shadow. Dust in our atmosphere appears red.

Lunar eclipses are one of the few sky events that don t require rural darkness to enjoy. If the night is clear - and AccuWeather predicts partly cloudy skies Saturday - any viewing spot will do.

But for a closer look, UT s Brooks Observatory offers viewing from 6 to 10 p.m. Visitors can look through a telescope aimed at the moon, and a second one aimed at Mars. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.

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