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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 11:15 GMT
Lunar eclipse wows sky watchers
The coppery moon was clearly visible across much of Britain

Sky watchers across the world have been enjoying the first total lunar eclipse in more than three years.

The eclipse began at 2018 GMT, with the Moon totally immersed in the shadow of the Earth between 2244 and 2358 GMT.

During "totality" the Moon took on a reddish hue; the only light reaching its surface by this stage had been filtered through Earth's atmosphere.

The eclipse was visible from the whole of Europe, Africa, South America, and eastern parts of the US and Canada.

The copper-red Moon was visible across large areas of the UK thanks to clear skies.

Robin Scagell, from the Society for Popular Astronomy, said that it was "one of the best lunar eclipses from Britain for years".

How a total lunar eclipse works (Image: BBC)
Occurs when Moon passes into Earth's shadow
Penumbra: Region where Earth blocks some (but not all) Sun rays
Umbra: Zone where Earth blocks all direct sunlight - total eclipse

"It was fascinating to watch the Moon's graceful movement through the shadow of the Earth and check its coppery glow," he said.

The last total eclipse visible from the UK was back in May 2004, but it was obscured by cloudy skies.

Lunar eclipses occur when the Sun, Earth and Moon are in a near-perfect line in space.

The Moon travels through the long cone-shaped shadow that the Earth casts in space. At totality, the only light reaching the Moon's surface has been refracted through the Earth's atmosphere.

The appearance of the lunar surface varies according to how much dust is in the Earth's upper atmosphere. For example, following major volcanic eruptions, the Moon appears to be a deep red and almost invisible.

As there have not been any recent sizeable eruptions, astronomers had predicted that the Moon would be bathed in a bright orange light.

In Belgium, about 200 people gathered at the Mira observatory in Grimbergen to witness the eclipse.

Moon enters penumbra: 2018
Moon enters umbra: 2130
Totality begins: 2244
Mid-eclipse: 2321
Totality ends: 2358
Moon leave umbra: 0111
Moon leaves penumbra: 0224
(All times are in GMT)
An astronomer at the observatory, Philippe Mollet, said a thunder storm earlier in the evening had prompted fears they would see nothing.

"We were especially concerned about whether our equipment would make it through this kind of weather," he said.

"But then, after some clouds, it was all perfect throughout the entire eclipse."

In Tehran, the director of Iran's Amateur Astronomy Association, Amir Shirazi, said he and other astronomy fans would be staying up all night to watch.

"This is the last lunar eclipse in the Iranian current year and we are not going to have another beautiful and complete eclipse like this one for five years," he said.

After Saturday's eclipse, the next to be seen over western Europe will take place on 21 February 2008, but in the early hours between 0300 GMT and 0400 GMT.

And though eastern Australia, Alaska and New Zealand missed out on this total lunar eclipse, they will be able to see the next one, due to take place on 28 August.

Map of Earth
(1) All phases of the lunar eclipse could be seen
(2) Some aspect of totality would have been visible
(3) Partial eclipse was seen - but no aspect of totality

The eclipse seen around the world

Red Moon dives behind Earth
09 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
Your pictures: Lunar eclipse
04 Mar 07 |  In Pictures


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