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Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2008

View of lunar eclipse could be hindered by cloudy weather

February 20, 2008

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— The last total lunar eclipse until 2010 occurs Wednesday night, with cameo appearances by Saturn and the bright star Regulus on either side of the veiled full moon.

Skywatchers viewing through a telescope will have the added treat of seeing Saturn's handsome rings.

Weather permitting, the total eclipse can be seen from North and South America. People in Europe and Africa will be able to see it high in the sky before dawn on Thursday.

As the moonlight dims - it won't go totally dark - Saturn and Regulus will pop out and sandwich the moon. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

Jack Horkheimer, host of the PBS show "Star Gazer," called the event "the moon, the lord of the rings and heart of the lion eclipse."

The weather could be a spoiler for many in the United States. Cloudy skies are expected for most of the Western states with a chance of snow from the heartland to the East Coast, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service.

"It looks like it's going to be a hard one to spot," Seto said.

Because the moon is going to be large that night, it will be easy to see the eclipse, said Bruce Twarog, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Kansas University. It will be visible from any backyard.

"The bottom line is that the best way to see it is without a telescope," Twarog said.

In Lawrence, the phenomenon begins with a partial eclipse about 7:45 p.m. By 9 p.m., the moon will be totally eclipsed and will remain that way until about 9:50 p.m., according to NASA.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon passes into Earth's shadow and is blocked from the sun's rays that normally illuminate it. During an eclipse, the sun, Earth and moon line up, leaving a darkened moon visible to observers on the night side of the planet.

The moon doesn't go black because indirect sunlight still reaches it after passing through the Earth's atmosphere. Since the atmosphere filters out blue light, the indirect light that reaches the moon transforms it into a reddish or orange tinge, depending on how much dust and cloud cover are in the atmosphere at the time.

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