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The BBC's George Eykyn
"Eclipse watchers gave it the thumbs up"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 08:29 GMT
Total eclipse of the Moon
Eclipse in Liverpool
Liverpool was one of the best places to see the eclipse
Millions of skywatchers have seen the first total eclipse of the Moon of the 21st Century.

Astronomers gathered across the UK to watch the Moon slip into darkness in the clearest view of a lunar eclipse in a decade.


It's a pleasant bonus of the job to witness a lunar eclipse

Flight Lieutenant Dave Edwards
The best views were enjoyed in Western Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England. For those with clear skies, the eclipse was visible to the naked eye from 1842GMT, when the Moon first began moving into the Earth's shadow.

Northern Ireland had an excellent view of the hour-long eclipse, with the Moon turning blood red from about 2030GMT. The Irish Astronomical Association held a special event at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra in County Down, where skywatchers could get a good look through their telescopes.

Terry Moseley of the association said viewing conditions were excellent and that the Moon had turned a darker red than expected.

"We've had a great night. There was a little bit of cloud around, but everybody has had a perfect view of the totality," he said.

Spectacular for some

But it was Royal Airforce crews carrying out training sorties over the North Sea who were offered some of the most spectacular views.

Flying at 6,400 metres (21,000ft) and around 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of east Yorkshire, the crew of a VC10 refuelling aircraft based at RAF Brize Norton witnessed the dramatic event without the visual obstructions of cloud cover and glare from city street lighting.

Moon PA
Some saw the Moon go a deep red
Flight Lieutenant Dave Edwards, who piloted the aircraft, said: "It's a pleasant bonus of the job to witness a lunar eclipse.

"Fortunately, I was also lucky enough to be flying a sortie through the last solar eclipse. Although this evening's eclipse lasted for longer, it certainly wasn't as dramatic."

The silvery outline gradually dimmed until it was totally eclipsed at 1950GMT. For about an hour, no direct sunlight reached the Moon and it turned red as it was hit by light filtered and bent through the Earth's atmosphere.

'Semi-bright eclipse'

But people in the south west and along the south coast of the UK had to contend with some thick cloud.

The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, speaking from Selsey, in West Sussex, said conditions there had not been good.

But he added: "It's definitely a red eclipse. It's not that bright, what is called a semi-bright eclipse."

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said he was surprised by how dark the eclipse had been.

"This is probably due to cloud in the atmosphere but air pollution could also be a factor. Everything plays a part."

Clear atmosphere

Astronomers in South Wales were disappointed that their view was obscured by cloud. Amateur astronomer Gavin Thomas said he did not have as good a view of the totality after 2000GMT as he had hoped.

"The high, icy cloud over Cardiff obscured any view of the rusty red eclipsed Moon, " he said.

Plane flying across eclipsed mooon
Eclipse means doom and gloom for some
Astronomers' high hopes for a night to remember had been due to the length of time since the last major volcanic eruption - Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 - which meant the Earth's atmosphere was relatively free of dust.

But not all had been looking forward to witnessing the three-hour phenomenon.

An estimated 1,500 white witches were planning to gather in the UK, Sweden, Iceland, France, Canada and Australia during the eclipse to ward off any doom it might bring.

Kevin Carlyon, high priest of the British White Witches and the Covenant of Earth Magic, said he had calls from worried people.

"In old days the peasant people used to think that it brought gloom and doom."

The last lunar eclipse visible in the UK was on 21 January 2000 at 0400GMT. The next time the UK will have a grandstand view of a total lunar eclipse will be November 2003.

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See also:

21 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Moon glows red
08 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Skywatchers wait for eclipse
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