Lunar Eclipse in "Prime Time" on Wednesday

February 18, 2008

The Hollywood writers' strike may be over, but perhaps the best prime-time show in the Americas this Wednesday night will be in the sky: a total lunar eclipse.

The moon will be completely submerged in Earth's shadow from 10:01 to 10:51 p.m. ET.

"It's very well placed for the U.S.," said Fred Espenak, an astrophysicist and eclipse expert at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The celestial spectacle is visible throughout the Americas as well as during the wee hours of Thursday morning in Europe, most of Africa, and western Asia.

All told, well over a billion people will have the opportunity to view the show, according to Espenak.

Eclipse Dynamics

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth, and moon form a nearly straight line in space. The alignment causes the full moon to pass through Earth's shadow.

The moon doesnt completely disappear, because some sunlight scatters around the edge of Earth's atmosphere and reaches the moon.

"It usually glows as an eerie, coppery red disk in the sky," Sky and Telescope magazine explained in a media statement.

(See a photo of the March 3, 2007, lunar eclipse.)

According to NASA's Espenak, however, the moon's appearance can vary during an eclipse, depending on atmospheric conditions.

A major factor is Earth's cloud cover, especially the extent of cover where sunrise and sunset are occurring during the eclipse.

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