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Total lunar eclipse set to woo skywatchers Sunday night to Monday

The full Moon will appear bigger than normal because it is closer to the Earth, about 358,000 kilometres away, which earns it the nickname 'super Moon.'

FILE: The full moon is seen as it rises near the Lincoln Memorial, Saturday, 19 March 2011, in Washington. Picture: Nasa/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON - An unusual set of celestial circumstances comes together Sunday for skywatchers in Europe, Africa and the Americas, where a total lunar eclipse may be glimpsed, offering a view of a large, red Moon.

The full Moon will appear bigger than normal because it is closer to the Earth -- about 358,000 kilometres away -- which earns it the nickname "super Moon."

Other monikers include a "Wolf Moon," a traditional way of coining an eclipse in the month of January, and a "Blood Moon" because of its rusty, red color. Hence the name for this year's event: a "super blood wolf Moon."

At the peak of the eclipse, and if the night skies are clear of clouds, Venus and Jupiter should be shining brightly in the night sky.

WHAT TIME?

  • Monday at 0334 GMT, or 4:34 in the morning in France or 10:34 pm in Quebec, the partial eclipse will begin as the Moon passes into Earth's shadow.

  • In the United States, the edge of the Moon will begin to fall into shadow at about 7:33 pm on the West Coast and 10:33 pm on the East Coast, according to Nasa.

  • From 0441 to 0543 GMT: for an hour and two minutes, the Moon will be entirely in Earth's shadow. But the Moon will not be invisible: it will appear tinted in hues of red, orange and pink.

  • At 0651 GMT, the Moon will be completely out of the Earth's shadow.

WHERE IS IT VISIBLE FROM?

Europe and West Africa will have a good view of the eclipse, but not all the way until the end. Eastern Europe will see the beginning of totality, but not the end. North Africa and West Africa should see the end of totality, but will miss the final phases of the eclipse.

The entire eclipse should be visible in North America, Central America and South America, as well as France, Belgium and Spain.

That is, as long as the view is not obscured by clouds.

If conditions are cloudy where you are, Nasa recommends checking out a live stream of the eclipse at https://www.timeanddate.com/live/

WHY RED?

During a lunar eclipse, the Moon appears red because the light of the Sun no longer directly illuminates it, since Earth is passing in between the Moon and Sun.

"The color is due to Rayleigh scattering -- where the Sun's blue light is scattered off molecules in Earth's atmosphere -- which also happens at sunsets," explained the Royal Astronomical Society of Britain.

"The Sun's red light is scattered much less by air, and is bent by Earth's atmosphere in a process called refraction, traveling all the way through it to light up the Moon's surface."

LAST ECLIPSE THIS DECADE

Total or partial lunar eclipses happen at least twice a year on average, Florent Deleflie, an astronomer at the Observatory of Paris-PSL told AFP. It's just that they are not visible everywhere.

It's a rare event when a total lunar eclipse is visible on so many parts of the Earth's land mass, as is the case Monday.

Europeans last saw a total lunar eclipse in July 2018. The next chance for a glimpse at a lunar eclipse will be in 2022, but the entire continent won't be able to see the totality of a lunar eclipse again until 2029.

North Americans may get their next glimpse of a blood moon in 2021 along the West coast and 2022 on the East coast.

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