Eclipses once filled our primitive ancestors with fear and foreboding. Science has changed that, we no longer fear eclipses, in fact, lunar eclipses can be fun! Sunday night, September 27, present-day Memphians will see one of the best total lunar eclipses in years. The most visible phases of the eclipse begin at 8:07 pm. “You need to go back to October, 2004, to find a comparable eclipse at such a convenient hour,” says Sharpe Planetarium supervisor, Dave Maness. The Sharpe Planetarium has been under renovation for over a year and reopens early next year.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon moves into the earth’s shadow. One might think the moon would completely disappear when shut off from the light of the sun. While this does happen sometimes, more often the fully eclipsed moon appears an eerie red or orange color with shades of blue or grey being possible as well. The colors you see depend on the weather conditions and the clarity of the atmosphere around the edge of the earth at the time of the eclipse. If you were an observer on the moon, you would see the earth appear to move in front of the sun causing a solar eclipse. While the earth blocks the sun’s direct light, some of that light is filtered through the earth’s atmosphere. This usually filters out the blue colors from around the edge. This scattering of blue light is essentially why we see a blue sky during the day. It can then be said that the totally eclipsed moon reflects the colors of every sunrise and sunset taking place at the same time around our planet. If the sky around the edge is clear, then we should see various shades of orange and red. If the sky is very cloudy all around the edge of the earth, the moon could become nearly invisible. Of course, what we see from Memphis also depends on the local weather.
We have come far since our primitive ancestors observed eclipses with fear and foreboding. While a solar eclipse is dangerous to watch without protection, a lunar eclipse is completely safe. No eclipse is exactly like any other, which makes them even more interesting to watch. Dress appropriately for the temperatures, bring bug spray and snacks, and enjoy one of nature’s most awesome events.