Full lunar eclipse visible for last time until 2008

Moon: Weather permitting, sky-watchers in the area will be able to see the entire celestial event Wednesday night.

Medicine & Science

October 25, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

If clouds don't spoil the view, this week Marylanders will get their last opportunity until 2008 to witness a total eclipse of the moon from start to finish.

Beginning at 9:14 p.m. Wednesday, the full "hunter's moon" will begin to slip into the dark core of the long shadow that Earth casts into space.

By 10:23 p.m., the lunar disk will be in full shadow, illuminated only by whatever dim, reddish or coppery sunlight is filtered by Earth's atmosphere and bent onto the moon's surface.

An hour and 22 minutes later, the moon will begin to re-emerge into full, direct sunlight. The show ends shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday.

It's another good opportunity to expose children to science and the night sky, said Jim O'Leary, director of the Davis Planetarium and the Maryland Science Center.

"Even if the kids have to get to bed early, there will be an opportunity for them to see the beginning of the eclipse," he said.

And for adults, he said, it's a chance to stop and think about where we are in space.

"When you stand outside at night, you're standing in the Earth's shadow," O'Leary said. "But you don't think of this as a cone going out into the darkness of space. It [the eclipse] is a reminder that we're sitting on a planet and not on this flat land as we sometimes imagine."

Weather permitting, the science center will open its Inner Harbor observatory for the eclipse at 8 p.m. In addition, staff members and amateur astronomers will be on the science center plaza with telescopic views and information for anyone who happens by.

Telescopes aren't needed to watch the eclipse, O'Leary said, "but it's an opportunity to do some lunar observing, too."

Herman Heyn, Baltimore's original "Streetcorner Astronomer," will have his telescope set up in the 3100 block of St. Paul St., in Charles Village.

Jerry Feldman ("Starman Jer") will be the host at a public viewing on the track side of Parkville High School, in Baltimore County, from 9:30 p.m. And the Howard Astronomical League plans a similar event at Alpha Ridge Park, off Route 99 near Marriottsville Road.

Unlike solar eclipses, the lunar variety can be safely watched with the naked eye or telescopes. The last total eclipse of the moon visible to Marylanders was Nov. 9, 2003. One in May of this year was clouded out.

There won't be another total lunar eclipse visible here until March and August 2007. And in each case, the moon will either rise or set in mid-eclipse.

The next time a total lunar eclipse will be visible here in its entirety will be Feb. 21, 2008.

For information, go to: http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/

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