Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Total eclipse of the Moon 16 September 1997.

Image: Lorenzo Lovato.

Tonight’s forecast calls for a 100-percent chance of the moon becoming as blood, with an 80-percent chance of a scattered Apocalypse tomorrow.

As mostly everyone in the United States, and especially as everyone on the West Coast knows, this morning at 337am was the height of a full lunar eclipse, which is when the moon turns blood red. A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon are directly aligned: when the earth’s shadow passes over the moon. This gives the moon a brownish or reddish glow; its precise color is the result of how dirty the earth’s atmosphere is, whether volcanoes have recently erupted and how much cloud cover, storm activity and human pollution there is. So why does the moon turn a reddish color instead of being blacked out completely? This is because the sunrises and sunsets created when the sun’s rays are bent by the earth’s atmosphere thereby light up the moon, creating its orangish-red hue.

I have watched a few lunar eclipses. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses will not damage your eyes, and because the moon is large and obvious, you don’t even need a telescope to see it, although I recommend a pair of binoculars to make the color brighter.


  1. #1 Susannah
    August 29, 2007

    I am so pleased with my son; he kept his 5-year-old daughter up until 4 AM and they went outside and watched the moon go dark and turn red. No “It’s past your bedtime,” excuses for him!”

    I didn’t get to see it, since I had to work overnight, but he tells me that once the disk was completely darkened, it turned a deep maroon and looked spherical instead of flat. I would imagine that his location (urban, the Vancouver, BC area) would have a lot to do with the colour.

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