In my opinion, there are few things more beautiful than a total eclipse of the moon. Oakland residents will be treated to such a spectacle early Wednesday morning, assuming the weather is accommodating.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth is directly between the sun and the full moon, blocking the sunlight that would normally shine on the moon’s surface. Because some sunlight manages to reach the moon after being refracted by the earth’s atmosphere, the moon will darken, but not disappear during total eclipse. Sometimes the color of the totally eclipsed moon is blood-red, other times it might appear a lighter copper color or even a bit brownish. The color and depth of the shading is dependent upon specific eclipse conditions, including how deep into the earth’s shadow the moon goes and cloud cover and moisture in the earth’s atmosphere.
A lunar eclipse has five stages. The first is the penumbral stage in which sunlight reaching the moon is not blocked, but passes through the earth’s atmosphere, dimming it. This stage isn’t very obvious and will appear as a slight darkening on the leading, upper left edge of the moon.
The second stage is a partial eclipse. This occurs when the leading edge of the moon has entered the earth’s shadow. As the moon travels deeper into the earth’s shadow, more of the moon’s surface will turn darker. The darkening during partial eclipse is much more pronounced than the penumbral stage, but it lacks the dramatic color of total eclipse. The photo below shows a partial eclipse on April 15, 2014. It was taken with a 300mm lens mounted on a tripod. The star to the right is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.
The third stage is total eclipse. During the period of total eclipse, the moon is completely within the earth’s shadow and only sunlight refracted through the earth’s atmosphere reaches the lunar surface. Each total eclipse of the moon is a little different, but you should be treated to the unusual sight of a dim, red moon in the skies above Oakland. I took the photo below as the moon entered totality during the April 2014 eclipse.
After reaching mid-eclipse, the stages reverse with total eclipse giving way to a partial eclipse and then a final stage of almost invisible penumbral eclipse.
Here are the approximate times of the five stages of Wednesday morning’s lunar eclipse:
Penumbra first visible (stage 1): 1:45am PDT
Partial eclipse begins (stage 2): 2:15am PDT
Total eclipse (stage 3): 3:35am-4:24am PDT
Partial eclipse ends (stage 4): 5:34am PDT
Penumbra last visible (stage 5): 6:05am PDT
While a telescope or binoculars can give you a different perspective of the eclipse, it is perfectly enjoyable to watch with just the naked eye. The photo below was taken with a 75mm lens. Spica is to the right of the eclipsed moon; Saturn is the bright star above and to the right.
So, if the fog stays away and you’re up (or willing to get up) early on Wednesday morning, step outside and enjoy the uncommon sight of a red moon shining down on Oakland.
You’ll find the moon in the constellation Pisces. At the beginning of the eclipse, the moon will be high in the sky. As the eclipse continues, the moon will gradually move into the west. It should be a beautiful sight.
Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.
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