Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 15, 2011: Total Lunar Eclipse

This eclipse season has really brought us some unique eclipses! After the midnight solar eclipse on June 1, we arrive at a total lunar eclipse. But, this isn't any old total lunar eclipse, it's the longest one so far in the twenty-first century (2001-2011). But, there's one catch to this eclipse trifecta: none of these eclipse are able to be viewed from the United States. This is too bad, because this eclipse will be very dramatic, not only in appearance, but in length.

Photo Courtesy
The moon will sail into the earth's umbral shadow, giving us an eclipse to remember. In total, the eclipse will last one hour, forty minutes (total one-hundred minutes), and will be the longest since July of 2000. Actually, this eclipse will only be three minutes shorter than the century's (2001-2099!) longest total lunar eclipse on July 27, 2018! Totality begins at 19:22:30 UT and ends at 21:02:42 UT, with the moment of greatest eclipse at 20:12:37 UT. The middle-eastern world will be able to view this awesome event; look at the visibility map below. (Click on it to appear larger).

If you can remember, the time of totality is 100 minutes. But, the time for the entire event, is three hours and forty minutes! So far, here's the entire event: Partial eclipse begins: 18:23 UT; Total eclipse begins: 19:23 UT; Greatest eclipse: 20:13 UT; Total eclipse ends: 21:03 UT; and the Partial eclipse ends: 22:02 UT.

"Places that will see the lunar eclipse tonight include Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, southern South America and eastern South America. Places that won’t see the eclipse at all include Hawaii, North America, northwestern South America, Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic," writes EarthSky.

Photo Courtesy Richard McCoy, Image of the December 2011 winter solstice eclipse

Sky& helped by pointing out a special note, otherwise missed. When the moon is eclipsed on Wednesday, the moon will lay in the constellation Ophiuchus. This darkened, lunar disk aids in the observation of many stellar occultations. David Dunham comments: "Especially good will be the occultation of 4.8-magnitude 51 Ophiuchi. Perhaps a naked-eye event, it will be spectacular as seen with binoculars or any small telescope." This site list all the occultations and other eclipse information. This link list the stars.

'Astronomy magazine Contributing Editor Ray Shubinski describes the upcoming eclipse as a missed opportunity: “It’s too bad that nobody in North America will see the eclipse. Luckily, we don’t have all that long to wait until the next one.”' (The next lunar eclipse visible in North America is the Dec. 10, 2011 total lunar eclipse.)

Next, the July 1, 2011 partial solar eclipse (the eclipse 'nobody will see') will come up quickly! If you're in the Middle East, stay awake! This eclipse is to be great!!


  1. New from

    VOLCANIC SUNSETS: South of the equator, gaseous fumes from Chile's erupting Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano are painting the sky vivid shades of purple, gold, and red. "Ash has been blown around the world to our little island, and has resulted in some spectacular sunsets," reports Jason Reilly of Launceston, Tasmania. "The red glow lasts for well over an hour after the sun sets." Volcanic ash has also grounded dozens of flights in South America and Australia. Stranded travelers can take some consolation in the fantasticview.

    VOLCANIC LUNAR ECLIPSE: On Wednesday night, June 15th, there's going to be a total lunar eclipse visible from every continent except North America. The Moon will spend 100 minutes fully engulfed in Earth's shadow, making this the longest lunar eclipse in nearly 11 years. Maximum coverage occurs on Wednesday night at 20:12 UT. [details] [animated map] [webcasts: #1, #2]

    Exhaust from the erupting volcano in Chile could affect the appearance of the eclipse. For discussion, scroll past this picture of a similar eclipse in 2010:

    Atmospheric scientist Richard Keen of the University of Colorado explains the volcano-eclipse connection: "The Moon will pass deep into Earth's shadow during totality, actually passing over the center of the shadow at mid-eclipse. As such, it should be a fairly dark eclipse. Furthermore, it appears that last week's eruption of the volcano in Chile may have placed some sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The ash and sulfur plume is extensive and dense, with ash reported at least as high as 13.7 km. Particles in the southern stratosphere could cause a darkening of the southern part of the Moon during totality."

    In recent years, Keen has studied the brightness of the Moon during eclipses to probe conditions in the stratosphere. When the eclipsed Moon is bright, the stratosphere is clear. On the other hand, a dark eclipse indicates a dusty stratosphere. Clear vs. dusty is important because the state of the stratosphere affects climate; a clear stratosphere lets the sunshine in to warm the Earth below. At a 2008 SORCE conference Keen reported that "the lunar eclipse record indicates a clear stratosphere over the past decade, and that this has contributed about 0.2 degrees to recent warming."

    Sky watchers in the eclipse zone are encouraged to monitor the darkness.

  2. I would never have thought about the volcano and the eclipse! In the southern hemisphere, the moon may appear black. From Matthew Winter's 'Astronomical Events: Eclipses, Transits, Occultations, and Conjunctions,' he writes:

    There is also a scale, known as the Danjon scale, which roughly estimates the darkness of a total lunar eclipse. The five point scale the measures darkness and runs from zero (extremely dark, in which the moon is invisible) to four (in which the eclipsed moon has little effects of being eclipsed). This scale was established by the French astronomer, André Danjon, and also contributed other scales to the world of astronomy. So, when the moon passes in front of earth’s shadow, it will either be extremely dark or not dark at all. One key factor to the darkness of a lunar eclipse is that of volcanic ashes. The color of a total lunar eclipse is usually described as the color of blood in many ancient manuscripts, (that is considered dark on the Danjon scale), so with the help of volcanic ashes floating in the air, the moon is tinted much darker than it really is, making the Danjon scale predict wrong. But, unless there is a volcano, there can be no ashes!